The palm tree and dates are among the many riches of the desert that are celebrated by Al Dhafra Festival, one of the biggest regional and international events held in Madinat Zayed in Al Gharbia (The Western Region) in Abu Dhabi and organised by the Cultural Programs and Heritage Festivals Committee. Special activities focusing on the date palm tree cultivation, handicrafts, and cuisine have been held to promote a significant symbol of the Arabian history and encourage local farmers to improve the quality of their produce. Running for about ten days, the Dates Mazayna and the Dates Packaging competitions have attracted an unprecedented number of participants and won the appreciation of many visitors of the Traditional Market. Al Dhafra Festival has also set up a unique platform to sell and promote local products made of palm leaves or palm dates. At the Traditional Market, a number of shops were displaying a plethora of products like dates syrup, dates paste, ripe, fully-ripe and dry dates as well as baskets, mats, and baskets made of palm leaves. The presence of the Emirati cuisine was strongly felt too, with the preparation of various desserts like luqeymat (light dough balls that are deep-fried and served with date syrup). "The Dates Mazayna includes four varieties, namely Al Dabbas, Al Khalas, Al Shishi, and Al Fara'd. We have finished the judging of the Best Dates, which was a complex and demanding process and we have announced the results," said Obaid Khalfan Al Mazrouei, Director of Al Dhafra Festival Heritage Competitions. Mazrouei hailed the large participation in the Dates Mazayna Competition, noting that the number of submissions has been increasing year after year. "The turnout was excellent and exceeded that of previous editions. We noted a remarkable improvement in the quality of the submitted dates. This fact proves that farmers have grown more and more aware of the best methods to supply excellent and fine dates. With such a high quality produce, we are now capable of entering and competing in international markets," he said. Mazrouei also noted the presence of a significant progress at all levels, whether in the Dates Mazayna or the Dates Packaging competition, which are exclusively open to Emiratis. "The participation in the first year was good. With each edition, the competition gets more exciting and intense. Currently, the quality is better and we have more sizes of dates. When the number of participants rises, the mission of the judges becomes more difficult and time demanding. Our main objective consists in preserving and promoting the Emirati date production," he said. Al Dhafra Festival, organised annually, seeks to protect the heritage and culture of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and the United Arab Emirates, through promoting the various heritage aspects and cultural products. The Dates Mazayna and the Dates Packaging competitions come in line with these objectives. Of high nutritional value, the dates have always been part of the Emirati diet. According to a recent study, the UAE is the first date-exporting country, with 33% of global exports. "We owe the improvement and the excellence of the Emirati date production to our rulers who have been providing both material and moral support to farmers. Their efforts have contributed significantly to the preservation of the local production and raised awareness about the heritage and cultural dimensions of the date palm tree in our country," Mazrouei said.