By ROGER HARRISON | ARAB NEWS
The national symbol of Saudi Arabia — the desert Kingdom, to use the hackneyed media phrase — is a date palm. It is through a single palm. When planted in regimented groves or randomly scattered around a water source, that thoughts of the hot aridity of desert melt as a mirage in the cooling day.
Much of Saudi Arabia’s one-million-tons-per-annum date production comes from small farms — from a few scores of trees to a couple of thousand. Almost exclusively the groves are simple affairs with the minimum of technology, a steady water supply and cultivators with simple tools and a persistence of application that manifests itself in a life of weeding, trimming, netting and tending the palms.
The romance of the noble desert palm growing in an inhospitable desert yielding nourishment to passing nomads is true in part. However, they are open to disease and insect infestations, drought and running to excess foliage that restricts fruit production. Palms in groves respond bountifully to a little but constant attention yielding anything from 50 kgs of fruit a year to 150 kgs, depending on variety.