- More farmers go into production
If you want to set up a date palm plantation, you now have next to nothing to worry about as researchers have reduced the gestation period from 70 years to 36 months.
It used to take between 60 and 70 years for a farmer to harvest date fruits from a plantation.
This fueled the common myth that a person who plants date palm trees usually dies before they start producing fruits.
This myth had discouraged many farmers from undertaking any meaningful venture in the production of the fruit, despite the expanding global dates’ economy.
With the increasing consumption of the fruit among Europeans, many production belts are stepping up its cultivation.
In Nigeria, the northern states have the potential for massive production, and for states like Jigawa and Bauchi, the fruits play key role in their socio-economic development.
On the date palm producing belt in the country, information from the Nigerian Institute of Oil Palm Research (NIFOR) indicates that double harvesting, and high yields of fruiting were also recorded in the country in Kano, Jigawa, Kaduna, Katsina, Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Gombe, Borno, Yobe, Bauchi, Adamawa and some parts of Taraba States.
Already, the varieties produced in Nigeria take the lead in the West African sub-regional market.
To boost domestic production, the federal government has mandated the NIFOR to embark on the genetic improvement of date palm.
Dr Abdul-Hamid Hamza Muhammad, who is the Head of NIFOR substation in Dutse, Jigawa State, said the institute had done good research on date palm breeding and its products including how to improve the agronomy of the crop, value addition and marketing.
He stated that research helped to break the myth by reducing the gestation period from more than half a century down to less than 40 months before the trees start flowering for fruits.
How to set up a plantation
For anyone that wants to set up a plantation, Dr Abdul-Hamid Hamza advised that the date palm should be planted at the onset of the rainy season.
“A hectare can contain 204 seedlings planted at 7x7m triangular spacing. Each hybrid seedling will, however, cost the farmer an average of N400 at the institute.”
The breeder said if all other best agronomic practices are properly adopted, a farmer can reap or harvest up to nine metric tons per hectare.
The researcher explained that there was a need to step up the sensitization of farmers to properly handle modern date palm plantations, particularly with regard to fertiliser, watering, and other agronomic practices.
The good news for many intending dates’ farmers is that, just like the achievement made in the oil palm research, the institute has recorded a milestone in date palm breeding that allows the dates to start fruiting three years after planting.
However, a farmer should expect optimum yield or production from seven years, the expert stated.
There are two seasons for dates’ production in the northern belts. The rainy season starts flowering around September/October and becomes ready for harvesting around February/ March, while the second season starts flowering around January/February and becomes ready for harvesting around June/July.
With regard to diseases, Dr Abdul-Hamid said there are few date palm diseases, adding that in extreme cases, chemical spray will be needed to control such attack.
“In such situations, farmers can contact the institute for advice and guidance,” he stated.
For most of the communities in the production area of Jigawa, date fruits play a significant role in their economic growth and development.
Dr Abdul-Hamid said some of the farmers around Dutse, the state capital, use date trees as their annual income source, adding that “if you have a tree of dates, you will surely get N30,000 to N40,000 during its harvest.”
According to him, “if you have a hectare of date plantation, at least it will contain a hundred trees, which can potentially fetch a farmer over N2 million annually during harvest.”
He said the dates business generates internal revenue for the Jigawa State government through tax, and improves the socio-economic standard of the people of the state.
Muhammad stated that the livelihood of the people is usually improved through date farming in the state.
As the dates fruit harvesting is already approaching, the farmers are excited in the hope that this year’s harvest will double that of previous ones.
Malam Habibu Yunusa, from Hausawa community in Dutse LGA, said date trees have changed his status economically, adding that “every year, I sell date fruits of over N200,000 and use the money to do other business that sustains my income till another harvest period.”
Another businessman, Garba Abdullahi, said dates business is what he has been into since adulthood.
“I made a lot of money; I built a house, married, had kids and, fed my family and other relatives,” he said.
Most of the marketers in the areas used to supply dates fruits to the South West, South South and other parts of the country.
The dates farming and business has a history that is deeply rooted in religious importance across the globe.
From Ali Rabiu Ali (Dutse) & Vincent A. Yusuf (Abuja)