Madinah harvest ‘delayed by expat worker shortage’

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Farmers collect dates as the palm dates harvest season begins in Disa, around 200 km from the Saudi city of Tabuk, in this August 12, 2013 file photo.

Farmers collect dates as the palm dates harvest season begins in Disa, around 200 km from the Saudi city of Tabuk, in this August 12, 2013 file photo.

Madinah date farmers say they are in trouble because they do not have enough workers to harvest this season’s crop following the crackdown on illegal workers by the Labor Ministry.

“Farm owners normally hire workers ahead of the date season but now many of them are reluctant to do so. At the same time, it is not easy to find expatriate workers willing to work on the farms,” Mohsin Al-Alawi, a Saudi farmer told Arab News over the phone.

He said the Labor Ministry has agreed to allow farmers to recruit seasonal workers from abroad but claimed workers would probably only arrive once the season is over because of lengthy government hiring procedures.

“Ramadan is the best time to make a good profit. But by the time the ministry grants visas for workers, the market will be flooded with dates from Qassim and other regions and the price will go down,” Al-Alawi said.

He said that there is a huge demand for dates from pilgrims. “Every pilgrim buys on average at least 5 kilograms of dates from Madinah,” he said.

According to sources, at least 2,000 workers are needed to work over a period of two months on the date farms.

The industry, from harvesting to sales, is dominated by expatriate workers in Madinah and other regions of the Kingdom.

The Ramadan dates season is worth SR1 billion, according to the Madinah Chamber of Commerce.
Dates from Madinah usually arrive first on local markets, followed by harvests from Al-Ahsa and Al-Kharj in July and August. Dates have ripened early because of rising temperatures.

Al-Rabeah and Al-Rothana dates have already started arriving at markets in Jeddah, but are of poor quality and expensive, say customers. There has been a delay of other varieties including Ajwa, Al-Hilia, Lubana and Helwa.

“I have been buying Al-Rothana dates for the last 40 years but the quality is not good this year,” said Eda Al-Barabba. He said prices would fall with the onset of Ramadan but most people would have already bought dates at the high prices.

Al-Rothana is a popular variety of Madinah dates and traders are expecting brisk business over the next week.

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