Kingdom’s dates industry hooked on dangerous pesticides

Kingdom’s dates industry hooked on dangerous pesticides

Kingdom’s dates industry hooked on dangerous pesticides


Saudi Gazette report

DATE palms have proven to be a key source of food ever since the Mesopotamians and other Middle Eastern peoples started cultivating them some 5,000 years ago. Known for being a concentrated energy food, dates are mentioned in the Qur’an over 20 times for their nutritional benefits and as a fruit found in paradise.

In the Kingdom, dates constitute an important source of food security but despite their importance, the concerned government authorities have failed to monitor farmers, leaving them free to use dangerous pesticides, many of which pose a threat to public health, Al-Riyadh daily reports.

Kingdom’s dates industry hooked on dangerous pesticidesSayed Rajab has been a farmer for over 30 years. He uses pesticides to kill red palm weevils and other insects. Cheap and readily available, Rajab buys pesticides to protect his crops but is unaware of the negative effects they have on human health.

“A can of pesticide, which can cost between SR20 and SR30, should be sufficient to kill pests in around five palm trees,” he said.

Another farmer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there are many different kinds of pesticides available in the market and some are not displayed on store shelves because they are either illegal or too strong for most uses.

“Some of the pesticides sold in the local market have no name, production or expiry date. They just come with a label that says ‘Extremely Poisonous’. I’m not sure who buys them or if they know how much to use.

Pesticides in general are harmful but people usually wash dates before eating them,” he said.

Kingdom’s dates industry hooked on dangerous pesticidesSami Asim works for a wholesaler that distributes different types of dates. He said pesticides affect the quality and taste of dates but farmers continue to use them since they are unregulated.

“As far as I know, insecticides have detrimental effects on the quality and taste of dates. Sometimes, the dates coming from farms look bad and cannot be sold to the public. My advice to everyone is to always check the bottom of a date box to ensure that everything inside looks edible,” he said.

Abdullah Salim, an ex-farmer, said farmers often spray pesticides on crops in the wrong season. The incorrect use of pesticides is a problem that plagues the farming industry in the Kingdom, he said.

“A farmer must not use pesticides at certain seasons because the results can be disastrous. Unfortunately, most farmers do not know this and the authorities are not monitoring the performance of farmers so they are free to do what they want,” he said while adding farm hands, many of whom are expatriates, often spray large quantities of pesticides on crops amid an absence of inspectors.

Muhammad Jamaz, owner of a dates processing company, also pointed out that a large number of farms are rented to untrained and unqualified expatriate workers who are unaware of how to properly use pesticides.

“Once the poisonous materials from pesticides enter the human body, they will remain there and lead to all kinds of health issues including cancer,” he cautioned.

Dr. Ali Al-Ethan concurred and said it is very difficult to identify the symptoms of insecticide poisoning because they are similar to the ones that occur in daily life such as nausea and headaches. “Many of the chemicals used in the farming industry are carcinogenic and can cause birth deformities,” he said.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified dozens of agricultural chemicals as carcinogenic and called for a complete ban. Many of these chemicals are found in pesticides sold in the Kingdom.