ZZ2 Karas Brand

Karas Medjool Dates originate from Southern Namibia and the name was derived from the Karas region of which the town of Karasburg is 120 km from our Haakiesdoorn date farm on the banks of the Orange River.  In 2008, ZZ2, inspired by date farming in the arid deserts of Israel, joined forces with Namibian and Israeli partners with experience in the cultivation of dates and started to plant Medjool date palm trees on Haakiesdoorn.

History

It was the vision of longstanding partner of ZZ2, Jehegskal Dagan, from the worldwide Israel-founded nursery, Hishtil, to farm Medjool dates in Southern Africa. But it was not until the 20 000ha remote Haakiesdoorn farm was identified, that the project got momentum. Together with a Namibian partner with experience of local conditions, Jehegskal and ZZ2 planted the first date trees in 2010, resulting in a learning curve regarding cultivation methods. In 2012 a breakthrough was made when trees were acquired from a dedicated nursery able to provide healthy sustainable tissue culture trees.

The first harvest of the original plantings was in 2015. In 2017, a substantial amount was harvested for the local market. The first export of 60 tonnes of Karas Medjool Dates is planned for the 2018 harvest and is already in high demand.

Date production is extremely labour intensive. It is estimated that when the project reaches full production, around 200 people will be employed on a full-time basis. This will give a major boost to the local economy.

More about Medjools

Medjool dates are grown on date palm trees and were first found in the remote Bou Denib oasis in Saharan Morocco.

Medjools are often called “little nutrition bombs” — they are packed with vitamins, minerals and fibre. It is the biggest of the date varieties with a soft, moist and meaty texture. They have a deep brown skin colour with a flavour that can be described as caramel-like. The dates vary greatly in size, from large to jumbo.

Health benefits include the ability to decrease cholesterol, prevent and relieve constipation, serves as a natural energy booster, is good for your heart through reducing Triglyceride levels, can be used as an alternative sweetener and boosts bone health through the significant levels of key minerals found in the fruit.

Nutritional information

One serving (100 grams) of Medjool dates contains:

  • 6.7 grams fibre (26.8 percent DV)
  • 696 milligrams potassium (19.9 percent DV)
  • 54 milligrams magnesium (13.5 percent DV)
  • 0.25 milligrams vitamin B6 (12.5 percent DV)
  • 1.61 milligrams niacin (8 percent DV)
  • 64 milligrams calcium (6.4 percent DV)
  • 62 milligrams phosphorus (6.2 percent DV)
  • 0.06 milligrams riboflavin (3.5 percent DV)
  • 2.7 µg vitamin K (3.4 percent DV)
  • 0.05 milligrams thiamine (3.3 percent DV)
  • 149 IU vitamin A (3 percent DV)
  • 0.44 milligrams zinc (2.9 percent DV)

Intensive crop production

Southern Namibia, where our Haakiesdoorn date farm is situated, is known for its excessive heat and summer temperatures regularly reach 45°C and even up to 50°C. Winters are mild with minimum temperatures ranging between 2°C and 5°C. The black rock mountains are predominant and land for cultivation squeezes between them wherever possible. The soil is a deep sandy loam deposited by the river over many centuries.

Dates are a labour intensive crop requiring careful maintenance through their growing years and onwards. Pollination time is always crucial as there is only a three day window in which to do the pollinating. This takes place around July and involves hand pollination to ensure optimum results. It means workers have to inspect the trees on a daily basis and when a male tree is found ready to be harvested the pollen must immediately be transferred with great care to a pollen harvesting facility. There it is extracted from the flower, mixed in specific ratios with talk and fine charcoal and then applied on the female flowers.

Haakiesdoorn receives 20mm of rain annually and all the trees are planted with a drip irrigation system in place and a few drippers next to each tree. The Orange river ensures an abundant water supply pumped through numerous filters into the dripper lines. This is a generous water source and is important for optimal production of a fully grown tree. Fertigation is also done through the dripper system.

Trees start bearing small amounts of dates from about 5 years and reach peak production towards year 10 and onwards. They have an expected lifespan of 30 years. Although dates grow in clusters on a tree only the individual dates are picked as they ripen. This means workers are ‘sweeping’ through a block regularly to select the ripened fruit. Harvesting takes place from February through to about April and on average a mature tree should yield around 100 kg of fruit per season.

Another important requirement is intensive pruning to encourage growth and fruit set. In this arid semi-desert climate pests and diseases are not a major problem although the local monkey and baboon population becomes a serious challenge once the dates start ripening. The dry climate coupled to the intense heat for most of the year provides an ideal growing environment for optimal internal fruit development.

Packhouse to fulfil consumers’ needs

The harvested fruit is cooled immediately after picking. It is then sorted into five different classes, varying from export quality to fruit suitable for processing. Dry fruit is rehydrated and wet fruit is dried. It is then frozen between -18ºC and -21ºC. It is kept at these temperatures for up to a year until it is released onto the markets. Despite their frozen status, Medjool dates are considered a fresh fruit, not dried.

ZZ2 Karas Medjool Dates packaging

The export standard of ZZ2 Karas Medjool Dates is in 5kg date boxes consisting of loose fruit. For the local South African market, the fruit is available in 400g punnets, 400g pouches, 1kg boxes and 5kg boxes. They will be available on national fresh produce markets and in supermarkets countrywide throughout the year.