Meet the 'date farmer' CEO
Dubai-based Asad Haque on the "incomparable" fruits of taking his hobby to the next level
Dubai resident Asad Haque is a CEO. He's also a date farmer. The two pursuits could not be more different from each other and yet, the Indian expat dons both hats with the ease that can only be born of passion.
Asad's love for gardening goes back to his childhood, when he would tend to plants and flowers in the large compound around his home in Bangalore. Although he's been a resident of the UAE for 30 years, it was only when he moved to his villa in the Meadows that he finally had the opportunity to take his hobby to the next level. It's a mark of his love for Nature that he decided to embark on the intensely challenging pursuit of date farming while at it.
"The date palm is the one tree that suits the local terrain and can survive the terrible summer heat, while also producing a fruit both wonderful and nutritious," he explains.
Few things are as representative of Emirati heritage as dates, a deliciously sweet fruit that has long been associated with the culture and history of not only the UAE, but also the Arab world. There is a recorded population of over 40 million date palms producing 199 varieties of dates in the UAE alone.
"The date palm has been mentioned in the Quran more than 20 times, and Muslims are well known for breaking their fasts during Ramadan with its fruit, so there is a spiritual and cultural connection too," he adds.
Asad's Dubai residence is home to eight of these trees - each one producing eight to 15 large bunches of fruit and up to a total of 1,000 kilograms every year. The bounty is no mean feat, considering the labour-intensive process of nurturing them from pollination to harvest.
Skilled gardeners are required to scale the trees (that can grow up to a height of 20 metres), using rope harnesses hitched around their waists and navigating the thorns that grow to about six inches long, in order to reach the flowers and pollinate the trees by hand. What follows are six to eight months of rigorous care, especially with regard to keeping pests like the red palm weevil at bay. Asad ensures he personally oversees every step of the process and loves giving the trees "baths" every other day. After 15 years, says the entrepreneur, the trees have become "like family" - and, if nourished well, can grow to about 150 years old.
"It's been a fantastic experience here in the UAE," says Asad, who is CEO at ICT Consultants. "Although I had a liking for gardening, it is Dubai that gave me the opportunity to nurture this hobby into a full-fledged passion."
With an annual crop so bountiful, the 54-year-old not only gifts the fruits to family and friends, but also distributes them generously among charities, labour camps and mosques, crediting his wife Reshma with "doing a beautiful job of packing them" every time.
There are other intangible 'fruits' of his labour that he cannot discount, he notes. "For one to take up date farming, one has to either have a lot of patience or cultivate such a trait. That's something I've learnt after all these years of date farming; it's given me a lot of patience. It also connects you to the supernatural, to creation and the Creator," he says. "There is a deeply spiritual satisfaction that comes from seeing something through, from flowering to harvesting, that is difficult to express in words."
Asad is quick to shoot down any notions that desert lands like the UAE are unsuitable to home farming. "Although the palm tree is the most naturally suited to the local habitat, it is not that nothing else can grow here. We grow a variety of other plants and trees in our garden: moringas, mangoes, lemons, figs, curry leaves, pomegranates and tomatoes are just a few."
A strong advocate for cultivating a green thumb, Asad says, "Whatever you have at home - whether it's a garden or even just a balcony - I would strongly encourage everyone to attempt growing fruits and vegetables at home. Not only are there a lot of green benefits to reap from it, but you will find a connection to nature and beyond that cannot be compared."