Ramadan, Eid, and the growing appeal of the date fruit


With Ramadan set to end at dusk on June 14, many of the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims (Pew Research) will be preparing for Eid al-Fitr, the important Islamic celebration that concludes the month of fasting.

Food and family are central to Eid. Among the eclectic variety of dishes dotted on tables from Malaysia to Morocco, and from Turkey to Tunisia, one fruit is ubiquitous in nearly all households: the date.

Dates, which grow bunch-like on date palms, are among the oldest cultivated fruits in human civilization. They appear in archaeological records from the Middle East and the Indus Valley dating back millenia, and are mentioned several times in the three central Abrahamic religion texts: the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Qur’an.

But the nutrient rich, golden-brown fruit occupies a place of particular importance in Islam. During Ramadan, millions of Muslims break the day’s fast and begin their evening meal – known as iftar – with dates. It’s mentioned 22 times in the Qu’ran – more than any other fruit – and believers say the Prophet Muhammad extolled their health benefits (Smithsonian Magazine).

Dates have also become increasingly popular around the world in the past decade. According to research by the International Nut and Dried Fruit Council (INC), a trade and consumer organization, their production from 2007 to 2018 was 40 percent higher than the previous decade. Exports went up by 57 percent from 2006 to 2016, as did imports. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimated that almost 8.5 million tonnes of dates were produced in 2016.

India is the largest global importer of dates and date products. In 2016, it imported more of the fruit than the next nine countries combined – 350,000 metric tons, or just over a third of the world’s total imports, most from Iraq and Pakistan (download trade map). The country’s appetite for the sugary fruit more than tripled over the past decade.

Meanwhile, the UK is the tenth largest global importer of dates, with just over 25 percent growth over the past decade.

Questions

  1. What’s new in the date industry? Trends, products, etc.
  2. What’s been driving the increase in production, exports, and imports?
  3. Are dates still largely a seasonal, luxury fruit or are they becoming year-round staple goods?
  4. What does the worldwide growth in date production, exports and imports tell us about these fruits and the people buying them?
  5. What are the most popular varieties and why?
  6. What challenges do producers face to expand production?
  7. What types of dates does the UK import the most? Where does the UK import most of its dates from?
  8. Is there any statistical correlation between per capita wealth and date imports for the UK?
  9. What drove the leap in date imports in the UK from 2012 to 2013, and what explains the dip from 2015 to 2016, according to INC figures?
  10. Is the consumption of dates a seasonal or year-round trend? Is this changing?

Sources

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