Photographer's Note

These men in a date shop in Algiers are smiling because I had just been chatting to them and had remarked how advantageous it was to be of short stature in a date shop because I couldn’t see the heads of the shopkeepers in amongst all the bunches of dates. The men told me they were from Lebanon and were shopping for dates because Algerian dates were the best in the world (which I am sure will be strongly disputed by any Tunisians reading this). Actually both Tunisia and Algeria (which are the world’s lagest and second largest producers of dates in the world) export mainly the Deglet Nour variety which is regarded as the ‘Queen of Dates’. This variety is also grown in smaller quantities in California, Arizona and Texas. I know we have quite a few TE members from Iran (the world’s third largest producer of dates), and I expect they will also dispute Algeria’s claim to fame, but I don’t know enough about the taste difference between the different countries’ varieties of dates to buy into that debate.

What I do know is that there are more than three hundred varieties of dates, and apart from Deglet Nour, the main varieties that are produced for export markets are Ftimi and Akhouat. The others don’t travel so well so are usually grown for local consumption.

Whilst doing a little research into dates on the Internet, I discovered that there were many organisations that were expressing concern about date farmers in North Africa moving towards producing just one variety – Deglet Nour – because it is suspectible to a fungus disease that is destroying many plantations. The International Plant Genetic Resources Institute has published several papers on the “stampede towards a single variety”. On its website it explains: “(Deglet Nour) has taken over in much of the region and represents more than 90% of the trees in some places. While Deglet Nour, because it is favoured by export markets, has helped farmers make a better living, it brings problems that make date growing unsustainable. Not only is it crowding out the hundreds of locally adapted varieties, with their myriad good qualities, it is also highly susceptible to bayoud. This is a fungal disease that is marching eastwards across the Maghreb devastating date plantations as it goes. The prevalence and vulnerability of Deglet Nour give bayoud a toehold from which it attacks other varieties. Deglet Nour has another interesting property: it needs more water than almost any other variety. That represents an inefficient use of a very scarce resource”.

I love fresh dates (100 per cent better than those dried up things in packets) so I hope this doesn’t reach a crisis situation and result in a world shortage of dates.

Usual PP: adjusted levels, cropped, then some minor adjustments to contrast, saturation and USM.

(PS: The Maghreb, for those who may not be aware, comprises Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Western Sahara and Mauritania).

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Additional Photos by David Astley (banyanman) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 1237 W: 108 N: 2568] (7789)
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