Bangladeshi farmer fights the odds to introduce Saudi dates

DHAKA: When 32-year-old Bangladeshi farmer Obaidul Islam Rubel came up with the idea of growing Saudi varieties of dates, he was met with disbelief. Four years later, as his trees bear hundreds of kilograms of fruit, he is planning to spearhead a campaign to produce Arabian dates at home.

Rubel had some farming experience from his father’s farm, but he said he knew nothing about date cultivation. He learned about it from YouTube videos and in 2017 decided to buy 1.5 bighas of land (a 2,000-square-meter plot) for a date orchard in his native Chapainawabganj district, northwestern Bangladesh.

“Everyone in my neighborhood discouraged me from producing Saudi dates here. The only person who supported me in this endeavor was my father Moksedul Mandal,” Rubel told Arab News.

He recalled how people would laugh at his plans at the beginning: “My father stopped meeting other people at the local market.”

Rubel first grew some 830 saplings to start his journey with date seeds supplied by friends and relatives who lived in Saudi Arabia. He then planted them in February 2017 and for the first three years he tended to the trees, day in, day out.

A year and a half later, the saplings started to bloom.

“It was like winning a war against so many odds,” Rubel said.  

His plantation has since expanded to 3,000 trees and currently grows 19 varieties of Middle Eastern dates, including the popular Saudi types such as Sukkari, Amber, and Barhi, of which this year he sold 200 kg during the harvest season in August and September.

He expects the yield will quadruple next year.

“If date trees are nurtured properly during the period of flowering, they yield better products. My date orchard will produce more and more dates in the coming years, as the trees are getting mature.”

He would like more farmers in the region to become involved in the business to establish proper facilities for processing and storing the produce.  

“I want more people to come up for the Saudi date’s cultivation by seeing my success and I extend support to everyone in this regard,” Rubel said, adding: “Preservation of these locally produced dates is a challenge for me at this moment, which would be solved when more and more people take up date cultivation.”

Weather and soil conditions in the northwestern part of Bangladesh are conducive for the business.

Department of Agriculture Extension Chapainawabganj District Deputy Director Nazrul Islam told Arab News that the area is suitable for the cultivation of Saudi dates as its climate is similar to that of the Middle East. Saudi varieties are also more resistant to pests.

But time and patience like that of Rubel and his father are necessary for the project to be successful.

“The farmers needed to be patient to yield a better result from Saudi dates, as it takes a little longer period of time to grow the dates,” Rubel said, adding: “It might be a good crop for many of them since the dates are less likely to be attacked by insects.”