05 Mar 2018
Gardaiah, Algeria
Organic Food and Agriculture

If you’re traveling around the deserts of southern Algeria, date palm groves are everywhere. The trees wave gently in the breeze, providing shade, and a popular, delectable fruit. Date farming in this Mediterranean country is serious business, with 18 million palm trees producing 500,000 tons per year. In fact, Algeria is the 7th largest producer of dates in the world, with the Deglet Nour dates being the country’s top date exports.

But that’s not the only type of dates in Algeria. In fact, there are over 300 varieties of the sweet fruit.

So, what happens to the rest of them?

Hammou Boussada contemplated that and started making use of the unwanted fruits, all while providing income to farmers.

How Rima Dates came to be:

Boussada grew up in Gardaiah, which is a city of 160,000 in the Sahara desert, in central Algeria. It’s 300 kilometers across sand to get to another city.

Boussada’s playground was his grandfather’s date palm farm.

“Date palms are my first love,” said Boussada. “I have a lot of passion for them and try to understand each variety of dates. For each variety, we have a different taste, shape, and color. I have a special relationship with this fruit. It’s a magical fruit.”

After growing up among date palms, Boussada went north to pursue his love of plants. He attended the University of Sciences and Technology in Algiers and graduated with a bachelor’s in plant biotechnology.

Immediately afterwards, he went home and started his first business, a nursery that grew a wide variety of plants and trees.

“With this business, I was very active in farmers associations, so I saw that there were huge quantities of dates that people weren’t using,” he said. “Forty percent of date production were the varieties people wanted, and 60% were other varieties. Many of them ended up as cattle feed.”

Boussada thought, with his knowledge of plants and passion for dates, that he wanted to get involved and transform those leftover dates into products people actually want to buy.

“My little sister encouraged me and helped me at first, so we started this business together. Her name is Rima and she’s also a co-owner and a co-founder of Rima Dates,” he said. “So, that’s where Rima Dates comes from.” 

What Rima Dates does:

Rima Dates is in the business of transformation. It takes all the unused and low-quality dates and turns them into something delicious.

So far, Rima Dates has stuffed the dates with almonds and smothered them with high-quality chocolate. They’ve made syrup and vinegar. And the reception has been outstanding.

“We started selling the products and it was the first time Algeria had products that incorporate chocolate with dates,” said Boussada. “It was really interesting for people. What we did is give those dates a higher value and a different look.”

Besides turning these dates into much sought-after, high-quality products, his business also helps local farmers.

“When the dates are sold for cattle feed they are sold at a very cheap price, which is bad for farmers,” he said. “We gave these farmers advice about what we need, and we buy those dates at a better price, which provides those families with more income.”

Rima Dates’ plans for the future:

Rima Dates was selected as a pilot project under the Switchmed programme funded by the European Union, in agreement with the Algerian Ministry of Water Resources and Environment, and the EU delegation in Algeria. Rima Dates also grew with an assistance from SwitchMed‘s business consultants, one of whom is Theo Baert.

He worked with Boussada on the marketing side when Rima Dates was just starting, and is happy with how far Boussada has come.

“He helps the farmers by getting rid of dates that would typically be thrown away,” says Baert. “He offers a product that is local for the people in Algeria as the country is very reluctant to import foreign goods.”

Even though it is growing, Rima Dates is still family-funded and only runs out of a small artisan factory, exporting 100-300 kilos of dates per month.

Boussada said so far, they’ve gotten some help from the government in the form of tax breaks for buying machinery, and reduced taxes for the first few years of operation. Now, they’re studying ways to expand and increase funding.

“In Algeria, there are limited funding options through banks, which are better for big enterprises rather than small entrepreneurs,” said Boussada.

So, he’s spending time learning and researching foreign funding sources like grants, awards, and crowdfunding campaigns, and hopes one day, Rima Dates will ship to further parts of the world.

 

Know more about Rima Dates through their Facebook page.

Images: Courtesy of Theo Baert.

Kristin Hanes is a journalist who has a passion for the environment, sustainability, and science. She loves telling stories about people who are making a real difference in the world.Kristin Hanes
This Algerian entrepreneur turns unwanted dates into tasty treats | The Switchers
Rima Dates Organic Food & Agriculture
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