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UAE varsity-Indian firm deal to turn Rajasthan desert green

Gulf-Middle East, Mon, 27 Oct 2008 IANS

Dubai, Oct 27 (IANS) A patch of arid desert land in Rajasthan is all set to turn green thanks to a technology transfer deal between a leading Indian specialty chemicals company and a university in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).


Atul, a subsidiary of India's Lalbhai Group, has entered into a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with UAE University to establish a strategic partnership for transfer of technology to set up a state-of-the-art date palm tissue culture production unit in Rajasthan.



The MoU is expected to act as a great booster for date palm tree cultivation in India, something that has hitherto been done in a very limited manner in India.



'In the course of our surveys, we found that the soil and climatic conditions in Rajasthan, Kutch in north Gujarat and southwest Punjab bore close resemblance to those in the Middle East and Gulf where date palm grows abundantly,' A.M. Batra, general manager for business development in Atul, told IANS.



'We acquired over 325 acres of land in Jaisalmer and Bikaner districts after winning an international bid put up by the Rajasthan government and started date palm cultivation in a phased manner for around four years now,' he said.



In Arab land, the date palm tree is known as 'the blessed tree' because of its fruit, which holds immense nutritional value.



Atul is foraying into date palm cultivation to bring the fruit in both fresh and processed forms in the Indian market.



According to Batra, Atul is entering into contract farming with farmers in India for producing date palm fruits and had imported thousands of tissue cultured date palm plants from the UAE for plantation in India.



'In the first phase, we imported around 21,000 secondary hardened plants and nurtured these for around four years at our nursery in Jodhpur and then started planting these,' he said.



'In the second phase, we brought in 45,000 primary hardened plants. We hardened these for nine months before distributing these to Indian farmers through the Rajasthan government so that they can cultivate these plants in their own fields.'



According to Batra, however, there were limitations in these processes and the supply was also not uniformly sourced as they were from different places.



'We wanted to ensure that the farmers got a uniform supply of date palm plants for cultivation and that too at an optimal cost. So, we thought of setting up a tissue culture production unit in India itself and started looking for technology abroad,' he explained.



After looking at technologies in Britain and France, the company finally found what they wanted in the UAE University, which had mastered the technology of production of date palm plants through organogenesis tissue culture technique.



Batra said that Atul's endeavour would help generate rural employment, empower women and also help in the ecorestoration of the arid regions in India.



As for the uses of the fruit, the general manger said the fruit can be consumed both in fresh and processed forms.



'Date sugar and date syrup are popular products. The fruit has many uses in the confectionery industry,' he said.



According to Sunil S. Lalbhai, chairman and managing director of Atul, the date palm project is part of the company's endeavour to diversify into naturals and is in addition to its current business of cultivation of aromatic plants and extraction of essential oils for the flavour and fragrance industry.



'We thought of turning the desert in Rajasthan and Kutch into something like what they had done in Saudi Arabia,' he said, adding that date palm cultivation was the most ideal solution.



The technology transfer MoU was signed by Lalbhai and UAE University vice-chancellor Abdullah Al-Khanbashi during the course of the third International Date Palm Exhibition held in the UAE oasis city of Al Ain last week.



UAE's Minister for Higher Education and Scientific Research Sheikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Nahyan and India's Ambassador to the UAE Talmiz Ahmad were also present.



'This MoU will boost trade between India and the UAE,' Ahmad said.



The UAE is India's third largest trading partner.


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