Merchants stand on trucks at a seasonal date market in the city of Buraydah, north of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Aug. 29, 2019. With dates harvest season in full swing in Saudi Arabia, ample varieties of dates are filling wholesale and retail markets across the kingdom, which boasts the world's largest number of date palm trees and is the third biggest producer of fresh dates globally. (Buraydah Dates Festival media section/Handout via Xinhua)
BURAYDAH, Saudi Arabia, Sept. 4 (Xinhua) -- With dates harvest season in full swing in Saudi Arabia, ample varieties of dates are filling wholesale and retail markets across the kingdom, which boasts the world's largest number of date palm trees and is the third biggest producer of fresh dates globally.
Saudi Arabia's largest date market is in Buraydah, capital of the north-central Al-Qassim region, 330 km northwest of Saudi capital Riyadh.
The region has more than 7 million date palm trees, the highest number among all regions in the kingdom.
Dating back to some 60 years ago, Buraydah Dates Festival usually fills with activities, and date farmers are expecting high sales during this year's festival, which will close on Sept. 5.
According to the Saudi National Center for Palms and Dates, Saudi annual production of fresh dates amounts to about 15 percent of global output, reaching 1.3 million tons per year from 28 million palm trees.
More than 1,000 sq km of land are under date palm cultivation in Saudi Arabia, producing some 400 varieties of dates.
Every year, during the 35-day festival in high summer, farmers from Al-Qassim and other regions gather for the biggest event of its kind.
Buraydah's location in the heart of the historic Najd region has made it a hub of diverse cultures and a variety of festivals, featuring markets selling food and handicrafts.
Shopping at the seasonal date market is a unique experience, especially during the harvest season that falls during August and September each year.
The festival is not simply an annual marketplace but also a lifeline for thousands of farmers and youths who depend on the income generated from date farming.
In addition to the grand display of the date farmers' harvest, another noticeable part of the festival is the brokerage market where traders seek the services of distinguished auctioneers to obtain the optimum prices for the dates.
At the festival, hundreds of trucks laden with boxes and crates of various varieties of dates. Dressed in the traditional white robes with red-and-white checkered headdress for men, auctioneers are hawking their wares atop their trucks as customers inspect fistfuls of dates.
"Buraydah Dates Festival is the largest seasonal agricultural and economic activity in the kingdom," said Khaled Abdullah Alrobay, head of the media team at the festival.
The festival employs more than 4,000 young men and women for marketing, accounting and management, Alrobay added.
"The festival is the largest in the world in terms of sales transactions that take place inside the market's yards, in addition to the line of more than 2,000 cars loaded with hundreds of tons of dates on a daily basis," he said.
"In this economic carnival, farmers and date traders offer more than 45 varieties of Qassim dates," Alrobay said.
The most popular variety by far is the golden yellow Sukkari. Other varieties include Barhi, Khlas, Shaqra, Medjool, Wannan, Rothan, Nabtat Ali, Heshaishy and Sekkaryah Hamra.
During dates harvest season, which runs for as long as three months starting in August, most regions in Saudi Arabia hold dates markets.
Through its pavilion at the Buraydah Dates Festival, the Saudi Export Development Authority seeks to increase the kingdom's share in the global dates market by raising export awareness and developing the readiness of potential exporters.
It also aims to shed light on global market opportunities in the dates sector, based on its role in increasing the proportion of Saudi non-oil exports, encouraging openness to international markets, raising the competitive quality of local products, and fulfilling the kingdom's Vision 2030.
The Buraydah Dates Festival attracts many consumers and traders from Gulf countries and the Arab world.
Saudi exports of dates reached 758 million Saudi riyals (202 million U.S. dollars) in 2018, including re-exports, an increase of 8 percent compared with 2017, according to the Saudi Export Development Authority.
The festival hosts the produce of 8 million palm trees transported with 53,000 vehicles. The quantity of dates sold during Buraydah Dates Festival, usually around 33,000 tons in 10 million containers, represents 10 percent of dates sold in Al-Qassim.
This year, the organizers introduced new functions and programs to attract broader participation of families, children and youths, Saudi Press Agency reported.
These programs include activities related to dates, as well as social and cultural programs. There are informative and recreational sessions accompanying the festival, including an awareness program to encourage youths to enter the market.
The annual date festival is an important event to turn primary products into dates derivatives including date syrup, date paste and date gift boxes for all occasions throughout the year.
According to festival organizers, integrated services supportive to farmers, traders and consumers have been set up in one of the biggest economic gatherings in the world.
Quality-control teams have been assigned to ensure that dates products are free from pesticides, fraud and other irregularities. Additionally, a guide office was deployed to lead customers to the finest types of dates, while a tent was set aside to allow youths to sell dates on a retail basis.