The Arabian Peninsula, which includes part of southern Iraq, was once known for having the most palm trees in the world. The documented panoply of dates comes from 600 types of palm trees, out of 2,000 types in total. However, Iraqis are now consuming imported dates.
Al-Monitor asked farmer Abdul-Hussein al-Ali about this paradox. Ali hails from Al-Mezeediah village south of Babylon, about 62 miles south of Baghdad, and owns an orchard containing 60 palm trees.
"The dates’ season started in July and will continue until mid-September. I am concerned over the accumulation of dates in the storeroom in my big house. I still have large amounts from last year's season, because I didn’t find buyers,” he said.
“It’s recession,” agricultural engineer Ahmed Abdul-Kadhim from Babylon told Al-Monitor. “Recession in the marketing of Iraqi dates has affected all farmers due to the lack of sufficient planning aimed at including dates in the food industry projects, such as canned dates, or at converting dates to other forms of goods, such as sugar, wine, pickles and jam.”
He said, “The canning and manufacturing efforts of the Iraqi Dates for Processing & Marketing Co. [IDP&MC] are not enough in light of the large quantities of dates produced, which amount to 200,000 tons per year, according to Ministry of Industry statistics.”
That figure matches current Ministry of Agriculture data, but older statistics indicated Iraq used to produce 881,000 tons per year in the 1990s. It seems that, at the time, IDP&MC did not face any problem marketing those quantities.
The company was founded in 1989; it buys dates from farmers and stores them to invest in the production of other types of food and beverages to be canned and exported based on Iraqi specifications.