Monday, 9 July 2012

June 30-July 3 Muscat, Oman

I flew into Muscat, Sultanate of Oman for a 4 day stint. We have in our Australian date palm collection, quite a number of Omani varieties so I was keen to see how these are managed in their home environment. I had previously made arrangements through the Ministry of Agriculture who kindly agreed to provide me with the opportunity to see their date industry. We began by driving to the interior to visit the major date growing region and govenment research station at Nizwa. Oman is certainly a beautiful country. We left the sandy beaches behind and drove through spectacular mountains. In fact during the entire 2 hour drive we were continuously driving through mountain ranges in desert country. June and July are their hottest months and Muscat didn't provide me any discounts ontemperature. One one day the mercury reached 49 degrees Celsius and the other 3 days were similar! The interior is a drier heat but in close to the coast they have high humidity levels.  This photo: Masoud and I at Nizwa.
Oman is home of the earliest ripening variety of date called Nagal - which I'm pleased to say we have in our collection. I was surprised to hear from staff that they have already been harvesting dates for more than a month. Other countries I have just visited were suggesting fresh dates have a further 3-4 weeks before harvest will begin. This photo: fruit close to ripe.
Upon arriving at the Nizwa Research Station I was invited to enjoy Omani coffee and fresh dates. I cannot explain how much I have been looking forward to gorging on new-season fresh dates! This photo: Dave and Haitham (Dept of Ag enjoyin coffee and dates.
Most Australian's are not familiar with this fruit style known as 'khalaal' or fresh dates. They are sweet, crunchy and juicy but only available for a few weeks of the year before the dates ripen beyond this stage to fully ripe or dried dates. Each year anyone who knows dates, hankers for the first of the new-season fresh dates and I'm no exception!
We toured the tissue culture and nursery facility and visited the gene bank repository where there are something like 260 Omani varieties. I discovered some varieties of early ripening dates which would be of interest to our own Australian colection. This photo: Masoud picking dates.
I was also given a demonstration of offshoot removal techniques and taken to see another 2 local plantations. Drove back to Muscat late in the day.
A date palm laden with ripening fruit is an attractive and colourful sight. Fruit can vary from bright yellow, orange or even red. One cannot help but be impressed by the massive bunches of fruit hanging - with sometimes as much as 200kg being produced by a single tree.
This photo: Dave wih Mohammed and Masoud at the Goverment plantation at Nizwa.              
Irrigation channel which is about 2000 years old and still in use.
Info on irrigation water supply.
The following day I met with senior Ministry staff at the Dept of Agriculture head office. We exchanged cultural notes and I obtained an extensive set of date palm research and a management publication for which I am most grateful. This will be a very useful resource. The staff were most helpful and accommodating. This date palm department is well funded by government and employs many experts and researchers - with date production being the most important agricultural crop of Oman.
I spent the evening looking at local attractions including the premier international hotel, beaches, harbour and old souk. This photo: palms growing in hotel pool.
On my final day I met with 2 other officials - one an expert on plant breeding and the other is a regional coordinator for ICARDA (International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas). We discussed ways of exchanging information and being included in the network with possible future workshops and tours. I really enjoyed my time in Muscat. The people are very friendly and road infrastructure and transportation make it easy to get around.

Muscat would be a fantastic tourist destination in winter months when temperatures are mild. During the extreme heat of June/July tourists flock to Oman's tourist resorts 1000 km to the south near the Yemen border. There apparently the climate is much kinder during summer. I hope to discover this for myself if I ever have the good fortune to travel to this part of the world again.

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