June 4 - Saudi Arabia's date industry is under threat, unless an infestation of the red weevil beetle that destroys many valuable palm trees is brought under control. Ciara Sutton reports.
Red palm weevil - they look harmless but these little beetles kill scores of trees. Saudi Arabia is home to more than 23 million palm trees, and produces over a million tons of dates each year. It's the main source of income for several million people. But this lucrative business is under threat. At this plantation in Burydah, members of the Saudi Ministry of Agriculture's pest control team are inspecting damaged trees. (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) MEMBER OF PEST CONTROL TEAM, MESHA'AL AL-FURAIDI, SAYING: "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." The red palm weevil began infesting palm trees in the early 1980s and has been reported in 50 percent of all date palm producing countries. Date traders and merchants say the problem in Saudi Arabia is going to impact the date industry this year with an estimated 10 percent drop in production. Farmers are demanding action. (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) SAUDI FARMER, ABDUL-AZIZ AL-HASSON, SAYING: "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." Damage comes mostly from female beetle's larvae feeding on the soft fibre of the palm trees. The government is sending out special pest control teams to help farmers contain the problem. With the campaign going national to try and prevent the crisis spreading further.