- Title: SAUDI ARABIA: Saudi date production marred by beetle infestation
- Date: 25th May 2014
- Summary: BURYDAH, SAUDI ARABIA (FILE) (REUTERS ) VARIOUS AERIALS OF BURYDAH ANNUAL DATE AUCTION GIANT BANNER READING (Arabic and English): 'BURYDAH DATE CITY' VARIOUS OF TRADERS BARTERING OVER DATES AND PRICES MONEY BEING EXCHANGED CUSTOMER HOLDING DATE IN HAND DATES
- Embargoed: 9th June 2014 13:00
- Location: Saudi Arabia
- Country: Saudi Arabia
- Topics: Environment / Natural World,Industry
- Reuters ID: LVA8HY7AGMV3GOPAHHUK2C7RU8LM
- Story Text: Saudi Arabia is home to more than 23 million palm trees and produces around 1,300,000 tons of dates each year.
Ranking third world-wide, date production is the main source of income for several million people - farmers, merchants, farm workers and traders.
But this lucrative business has been under threat for some time now.
Here, at a date palm plantation in Burydah, members of the Saudi Ministry of Agriculture's pest control team are inspecting damaged trees. They're looking for the red palm weevil, a small beetle that kills the trees, which then need to be cut down. The red palm weevil started infesting palm trees in the early 1980s and has been reported in 50 percent of all date palm producing countries, including Saudi Arabia.
Damage to the trees is done mainly by the beetle's larvae. Adult females lay about 200 eggs on leaves or trunks. The larvae feed on the soft fibre of the palm trees and as they grow, dig deeper into the trees, killing them.
The farmers are left with no option but to cut the trees down, a measure that no one likes to take.
"There are some palm trees which we can treat and economically they can produce more, so there will be no problem. But cutting down (palm trees) is a bitter pill to swallow", says Mesha'al al-Furaidi, a member of the pest control team.
The palm tree plantations of Burydah city are amongst the worst affected, prompting the government to send out special pest control teams to help the farmers contain the damage with special pesticide sprays. As part of their campaign, they also inform and educate farmers and workers about the beetle, explaining how it kills their trees.
But, despite the campaign, many palm trees don't survive the beetle infestation and have to be cut down and shredded.
The economic loss of so many trees has angered farmers, who want the government to do more to control the weevil. For some, growing and caring for the trees has become an emotional issue.
"We want treatment solutions. We do not want to cut down our palm trees. In other words, we are not satisfied with removing our palm trees. Palm trees are the same to us as our kids are. The Ministry of Health treats our kids, and we want the Ministry of Agriculture to treat our palm trees", Saudi farmer Abdul-Aziz al-Hasson says.
At Burydah's annual date festival, traders and merchants are pessimistic about the volume of dates that will be produced this year.
They say they are expecting a decrease of about 10 percent, unless a better and durable solution in the battle against the red palm weevil is found quickly enough to save Saudi Arabia's palm trees and protect its dates.
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