The Date Palm (Phoenix dactylifera L.), one of the most important fruit crops cultivated in the arid regions, is distributed throughout the Middle East, North Africa, South Sahel, areas of East & South Africa, Europe, Asia and USA with approximately 150 Million Trees worldwide. The Date Palm is a very good source of nutrition having 70% carbohydrates. 1 Kg Date Palm fruits give 3,000 Kg calories. It is also a good source of Vitamin - A, B-2, B-7, Potassium, Calcium, Copper, Manganese, Chlorine, Phosphorous, Sulphur and Iron, etc.
India is the largest country in import of Date Palm importing about 38% of the world market. Traditionally, the local varieties of Date Palm were grown from the seeds in Kutch-Bhuj area of Gujarat but, the multiplication from seeds of such plants was not feasible due to dioceous nature of the plants. The high quality planting materials were not available.
The Date Palm is cultivated for its high productivity and the high nutrient value of its fruit, for preserving ecosystems threatened by desertification and creating appropriate microclimate for agriculture under the arid conditions. In addition, its cultivation generates considerable opportunities for rural employment, provides a major source of income for farmers and ensures livelihood and food security of the rural areas.
It can be propagated sexually by seeds or asexually by offshoots. When grown from seeds, only 50% chance of having females, while from the offshoot, the progeny palms will be identical to its parent. But, the survival rate in the field is very low (<35%). So, the Tissue Culture is the method of choice to produce genetically stable planting material in large quantities.
The Barmer area is having sufficient Heat Units and fortunate enough as this is the only area in India where Medjool Variety of Date Palm can be grown successfully and Pind matures on trees. In the Western Rajasthan, the fruits of Date Palm mature one Month early in comparison to the Gulf countries having its own advantage in the International markets. It can tolerate saline water available in the District where no other crop can be grown.
For meeting out the challenge of availability of plants, around 3,432 Date Palm Plants of varieties - Barahi, Khuneizi, Khalas and Medjool raised from the Tissue Culture Technique were imported and provided to farmers of Barmer in the Year - 2010-11 under the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana.
About 156 Date Palm Plants at spacing row-to-row and plant-to-plant 8 Mtr in 1 ha area were planted. The Technical know-how has been provided by the Krishi Vigyan Kendra. Along with the subsidy on Date Palms Plants, the Horticulture Department has also provided the financial help for cultivation and maintenance of plants for 2 Years.
For the maximum survival of plants and looking at the scarcity of water in Barmer, the provision of drip irrigation system was mandatory. For promoting the cultivation of Date Palm in Barmer, the Department of Horticulture, Government of Rajasthan also established Government Date Palm Farm and Centre of Excellence for Date Palm in the area of 98.00 ha. at Sagra, Bhojaka, Jaisalmer and Government Mechanized Date Palm Farm, Khara, Bikaner in the area of 38.00 ha.
The farmers of the desert region started experimenting with Date Palm Farming in 2010-11. Initially, 11 farmers grew the Fruit Crop on 22 hectares in Barmer and got the first crop in 2014. A good response from the market led to enhance their income. With an increase in the area under the Date Palm cultivation every Year, it has reached upto 156.00 ha in 2020-21. In Barmer, the total production of Date Palms is about 150 to 180 Tonnes per Year.
Along with improving the farmers’ socio-economic status significantly, the Date Palms cultivation has also helped in removing the nutrients’ deficiency. Its easy availability in the markets has also reduced the dependency on the imports which has, in turn, helped to save the foreign currency.
The Date Palm’s cultivation has changed the cropping pattern and helped in reducing the desertification. In the initial 4 Years, the farmers could easily intercrop Green Gram, Moth Bean and Sesame under the Date Palm Orchard.
In the coming Years, the area under Date Palm will be increased in the nearby Districts including Jalore, Jodhpur, Barmer and Jaisalmer of Rajasthan.
(Source: ICAR-Agricultural Technology Application Research Institute, Jodhpur, Rajasthan)