06 December 2023
The four brothers who preserve palm cultivation
Abdlallah, Jamil, Abdul Rasoul and Habib bin Khamis, four Bahraini brothers, are nakhlawis, a Bahraini local dialect term for date palm farmers. They hail from a farming family and have cultivated palm trees their whole lives. “I come here every day at 2:30 in the morning. We take care of the horses, and then when the sun rises, we move to the farm,” says Jamil. The Kingdom of Bahrain has long been known as the “country of million palm trees”, probably due to the remarkable contrast between its modest size and its abundant greenery with a very large number of palm trees. As a matter of fact, palm tree cultivation is an integral part of the history, civilization and identity of Bahrain and its people. Although recent National Space Science Agency statistics show that the actual number of palm trees in Bahrain is around 250,000, the Kingdom has retained this title. Today, more than 23 varieties are grown on the island, each with its own characteristics and taste. “In the past, palm trees provided food, the material out of which we built our beds, and even the fire we used to cook rice was taken from it. Everything in life was linked to the palm tree,” said Jamil. His brother Abdullah added: “You know when it gets hot here, we can't grow anything except dates and nira. Plants like lettuce, cabbages, coriander, and parsley do not grow in the summer.” The weather in Bahrain can get very hot, with daily temperatures surpassing 40 degrees for several months. The bin Khamis brothers moved around gardens through the years as farming spaces shrank with urban development, which has had an adverse impact on soil and farming at large. According to Habib: “the richer the soil and the better the water, the better the cultivation.” “There is a big difference between sandy and clay soils. A sandy soil is light, and a clay soil is heavy (for cultivation),” said Abdallah. The farm the brothers have been cultivating is in Budiya, an outskirt of Bahrain’s capital city of Manama. The area used to be a large oasis. Today, it is situated in the middle of a busy, vibrant urban street. The four brothers have been portrayed by Husain Al Mahroos, a Bahraini photographer in his photobook "Garden of Gemstones.” Al Mahroos started working on the project and photographing the brothers in 2006. ‘’I found that the experience of photographing gardens is very similar to that of photographing fishermen near the sea, in that both gardens and beaches are in the process of disappearing,” Al Mahroos wrote in his book. Nestled in the heart of the Gulf, Bahrain has always presented a vision of fertile oases amid the blue waters. Palm tree cultivation and marine fishing have been, for many centuries, an integral part of the socio-economic fabric. On World Soil Day 2023, the United Nations Information Centre for the Gulf Countries (UNIC Manama) released a short documentary to shed light on the story of the four local farmers. “95% of our food comes from soil, and as the latest generation of a long line of farmers, the four brothers' story is an embodiment of the essential role local farmers play in producing products locally and achieving food security,” said Ahmed Ben Lassoued, UNIC Manama Director. World Soil Day is held annually on 5 December as a means to focus attention on the importance of healthy soil and to advocate for the sustainable management of soil resources. The 2023 WSD campaign aim to raise awareness of the importance and relationship between soil and water in achieving sustainable and resilient agrifood systems. In Bahrain, the arid climate and limited freshwater resources pose significant challenges to local food production and food security, which is among the priorities captured in the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (UNSDCF) (2021-2024).