The price of Aseel dates which was Rs6,000 per maund at the start of Ramzan has come down to Rs4,000 per maund, but the retailers have not passed on the benefit to the consumers. They are sold from Rs200 per kg to Rs250 per kg. Iranian Bam dates named after its city Bam are available for Rs210 per half kg bag, and dates from Saudi Arabia are priced as high as Rs400 to Rs600 per kg.
Arrival of Sindhi dates in local market starts in late July or early August and monsoon rains are disastrous for the crop. That’s why growers hang amulets with tree trunks and pray the harvest season passes without rain.
This means next year dates will be arriving after Ramzan and would have to be stocked for the whole year to be marketed in Ramzan, says Mushtaq who thinks the storage costs involved would push the prices upwards significantly.
On dates’ consumption in times other than Ramzan, Muhammad Jameel, a street vendor in Walled City, says they are consumed as energy drinks. Every other juice and milk shake corner is offering Khoya Khajoor shake to its customers, he says.
Jameel tells many people who return from Umra or Haj buy local dates which resemble Saudi dates in taste and colour, in large quantities. These dates are mixed with the handful of dates they have brought from Saudi Arabia and distributed among friends, relatives, colleagues and acquaintances as gift from the holy land. There is more than one shop at Beadon Road which sells fresh dates throughout the year, he says, adding: “I am not talking about chohara (dry date) which is distributed with sweets in nikah ceremonies and has a vast market.”
Jameel shares there is a big Khajoor Mandi in Layari, Karachi, comprising hundreds of shops who sell dates throughout the year. They also import dates from Saudi Arabia and sell it to returning pilgrims who cannot bring them in large quantity due to weight restrictions imposed by airlines. “Such pilgrims think it’s not fair to cheat people by giving them local dates in the name of those brought from Makkah and Madina.”
Dates are produced in all the four provinces, but Khairpur and Sukkur are the main districts contributing to around 40 to 45 percent of the country’s date production. Varieties like Rabai and Begam Jangi of Balochistan, Aseel of Sindh and Dhakki of Dera Ismail Khan are popular worldwide and exported to countries including USA, China, Nepal, India, Canada and Denmark.
In Pakistan, dates are also used as ingredients in a type of halwa, bakery products, rice served with Sajji and also as an energy diet when cooked in milk. Dates are an instant remedy for patients of hypoglycemia a condition in which a person’s blood sugar gets too low, says Babar Ali, a nutritionist and expert in herbal medicine. “Such patients are advised to keep dates with them as contents of a date mix in bloodstream fast and normalise the blood sugar level instantly.”