Planting palms for charity

Mai Samih , Tuesday 25 Oct 2022

One of the pioneer charities in the field explains eco-friendly palm tree endowment projects to Mai Samih


There have been many creative methods of collecting funds for charity, including organising charity concerts or dinners. However, a new trend in this field is endowing palm tree planting, which means that NGOs plant date palms with the help of donors and the revenues go to charity.

The idea was started in November 2021 by the Social Solidarity Directorate in the New Valley governorate (Al-Wadi Al-Gedid) on an area of around ​​4,660 feddans where palm trees for charities were planted with a view to providing economic returns to be spent on orphaned children and the marriage supplies of orphans.

In February 2022, the Ministry of Social Solidarity also launched a palm endowment initiative within the framework of the presidential initiative to plant 2.5 million trees in the New Valley governorate.

According to a UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report, Egypt ranks in the first place among the top five date producing countries in the world. It produces 1.7 million tons of dates per year, which represents 17.7 per cent of the world’s date production and 24.4 per cent of that from the Arab countries.

A date palm can endure hot and arid climates and has a tolerance for saline water. These qualities allow it to offer a food source even in difficult environmental conditions, such as deserts, the report said.

It is this high production rate and the quality of associated revenues that has encouraged many NGOs to start implementing palm endowment projects, especially as current economic conditions have led to a reduction in the amount of money going to charity.

Insan (Human) is one endowment project intended to benefit the poor in Upper Egypt and bring them an annual income and decent life. Despite the fact that Egypt is the largest date producer in the world, many dates are of low quality and are not of globally classified types. There is also a problem of the low quality of some manufacturing, packaging, and export operations.

Insan started to work within the framework of the state’s Vision 2030 Strategy to plant five million palm trees producing high-value dates like the Al-Barhi and Al-Magdoul varieties. It aims to increase exports from 38,000 to 120,000 tons a year, projecting financial resources to increase from $40 million to $180 million within five years.

It is currently working on the cultivation of 1,000 palm trees within two years on an area of ​​15 to 20 feddans, a feddan hosting 65 trees. It is developing an application that includes information about the charitable endowment, the location of the farm, and methods of communication and donation.

A donor can enter a palm tree number on its website to follow the development of the project.

PULSE OF LIFE: On a larger scale, Nabd Al-Hayat (Pulse of Life), a foundation for community development, is also adopting the idea of creating endowments for palm tree projects, aiming to benefit from the resources of donations and invest them to provide sustainable financing for projects for the neediest families in healthcare, education, water, and communication.

Keeping pace with the development of creative financing, its palm endowment project has become a renewable source in the achievement of development goals. The Nabd Al-Hayat Foundation has launched a palm endowment project, the largest project of its kind.

Abdel-Aziz Mohamed, executive director of Nabd Al-Hayat, said the foundation was started as an NGO in 2014 to work in the fields of development and charitable work. “It has been organising many initiatives, the first of which was in 2017 in the form of a campaign to donate blood. It was one of the biggest in the world and was recorded in the famous UK Guinness Book of Records.

“It was one of our first developmental initiatives targeting patients, especially children suffering from Mediterranean fever. After this initiative, we started aiming at others that made international records including the date palm endowment” that plants as many date palms as possible for charitable causes.

“We started the palm endowment project in 2020 with 10 feddans of land in Wadi Al-Natroun, north of Cairo. It was an experimental phase to see how many donors would participate. We found that many people wanted to donate, even asking us to extend our project so that everyone who wanted to donate could participate,” Mohamed said, adding that they had conducted feasibility studies on different types of palm trees.

They found that the Al-Magdoul type of trees was the most in demand for its dates in the international market. They also discovered that the soil in Al-Wadi Al-Gedid was the most suitable to plant the palm trees.

“We then requested a permit from the governor of Al-Wadi Al-Gedid, Mohamed Al-Zamlot, and he allocated 1,000 feddans to the project,” Mohamed added, saying that this was the first phase of the project started in 2021. They were encouraged by people who wanted to invest money in a sadaqa gareya (sustainable fund), a type of Islamic fund that brings benefits after the death of the benefactor, ensuring that he is blessed with good deeds.

“We then started reclaiming and planting the land. We were given a time limit of three years to do so, with this saying that the land would be taken away if we did not meet it. The last phase of the planting is this month, so we will meet our deadline,” Mohamed said.

The 1,000 feddans take 60,000 palm trees, with an average of 60 trees per feddan of the Al-Magdoul type. So far, they have planted 750 feddans and will plant the rest this month. It is the first waqf-type charity to be organised on this scale, a waqf being a type of Islamic endowment or charitable trust.

“We will also have another 8,000 feddans allocated for our initiative after this one is done. This is under the umbrella of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s initiative to plant five million date palm trees” within the framework of government sustainable development goals.

Palm trees have a very long life and can live for an average of 70 to 90 years. A palm tree can also produce four to seven seedlings that can be replanted, he said.

Regarding the operation of the endowment, “we announce on our Facebook page that there will be a project like a palm tree endowment project that conforms to the standards of a sadaqa gareya and for which donations are open to the public. People then sign a contract that says that the donor has given the project LE5,000 for an endowment that includes planting and caring for a palm tree until it produces revenues.

“A donor indicates the type of charity he wants his revenues to go to, like orphanages or bridal supplies or medications for the needy, in the contract to ensure that they are properly distributed.

“We will be launching a call for participation this month to open the door for NGOs and other charities to participate in the experiment. This is because we want to help those NGOs who have tried to start similar palm tree projects but have failed because of a lack of expertise.”

The event is under the auspices of the Ministry of Social Solidarity. “The NGOs not only save money in working with us, but they also make gains representing 50 to 60 per cent of the money they have spent on their projects.”

The project is subject to the supervision of international consultants and senior specialists at the Agricultural Research Centre in Egypt. Visits were made to the best date farms to meet with major growers. Irrigation is through wells and water tanks maintained with the help of the irrigation authorities and some private companies.

“It is because of the help of our partners that we were able to carry out our project in a third of its allocated time and to the best quality possible,” Mohamed said.

The allocated time for the project was one year, and they planted the palm trees in four stages. There are two planting seasons per year, the first in March and April and the second in September and November. In each phase they would plant 250 feddans of land, and they will start planting the new 8,000 feddans next year.

Mohamed would like charities like his to be independent of financial donations and be able to self-finance their work. “Law 149/2019 allowed all NGOs to be given land for their agricultural projects, provided that they render revenues to spend on their activities. We want to start such projects instead of asking the public for donations,” he commented.