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  War waged on pesticides
  Written By:  Hakim Almasmari (YEMEN POST STAFF) 
  Article Date: December 10, 2007 


Doctors blame the increased rates of cancer-afflicted patients in Yemen on irrational use of pesticides and experts say that Yemeni farmers use fertilizers and pesticides banned across the globe in an effort to get double crops and make more money.

Statistics indicate that over 20,000 people suffer from cancer every year, mostly mouth and throat cancer. However, this number is on rise according to head of the Sana'a-based Al-Jumhuri Hospital's Tumors Center Dr. Nadeem Mohammed Sa'eed who further admits that pesticides and Shammah (tobacco put between the lower lip and teeth) and cigarettes are key reasons for the rampage of cancer in Yemen. 

Due to the lack of knowledge and inattention, locals in areas growing Qat trees will not wait until the effect of fertilizers and pesticides finishes off. Sometimes they pick up Qat leaves and chew while spraying pesticides.

In addition, pesticides are responsible for intoxication cases and a large number of people complain of digestive tract problems. Quite often, people rushed to hospitals after a fit of vomiting, diarrhea, abdomen ache were found to be in or after a Qat-chewing session. 

Though most people, doctors, elite know the risky effect of pesticides and blame them for swelling numbers of deaths, diseases and intoxication, they do little about the matter. Experts further believe that Yemeni farmers use fertilizers that are too hazardous to living entities and banned in most countries across the globe.  

Ministry of Agriculture officials assure they license only materials and pesticides that leave behind no effect on people, animals and environment. Yet, many farmers stress these assurances by the ministry are made for media conception and the fact still is that all types of pesticides and fertilizers are allowed into the country by different ways.  

Still, a considerable percentage of those hazardous materials and pesticides enter the country illegally through air and sea smuggling and, sometimes, with the complacency of outlets' officials.  

Pesticides not just for Qat 

Farmers have given up the traditional means of fertilizing and resorted to chemical fertilizers and pesticides to gain more yields within shorter time. Using chemical pesticides is not confined to Qat plantation, but also includes all fruit and vegetables. Thus, none is spared from pesticides risks and the one who does not chew Qat will eat fruit or vegetables.  

"Using chemical fertilizers and pesticides will make crops ripe in less time and the yield double. I have a small piece of land in which I plant Qat trees and with the help of chemical fertilizers I can grow and sell Qat around the year," Said Abdullah Mohammed Thabet.

Thabet added his fellow farmers do the same thing in order to make more money within lesser periods of time, maintaining the hard economic situation most people lead forces them to do so.                    

Grocer Abdulkhaliq Al-Hubaishi shares this opinion and believes that some farmers resort to chemicals to make their crops ripe early to avoid price drops when markets get plenty of them.

Official campaigns 

Under the continuous calls of doctors and experts to rationalize the use and imports of fertilizers and pesticides, the Ministry of Agriculture issued a list of over 300 materials not to be allowed into the country and released an official notification numbered 763 on June 16 in this regard.

The notification asserted that pesticide importers should register their imported items in the different ministry offices, along with handing in certificates of origin and analysis.

The list was distributed to all sea and land outlets; however, those hazardous materials are still entering the country by different ways either through the complacency of officials or smuggling.

Still, experts believe that an extensive awareness campaign should be made via different mass media outlets as concerning the hazards of spraying vegetables, fruits and Qat leaves with pesticides.

President Saleh, recently attending the launch of Al-Amal Center for Treating Cancer Patients in Aden, announced publicly the war on pesticides and declared the irrational use of chemical is the main reason for the frightening numbers of cancer-afflicted patients.

Saleh made it clear that these fatal fertilizers and pesticides are produced in Israeli factories and smuggled into the Arab world with its open and welcoming markets.

He called on all officials in Yemen's different sea, land and air outlets to keep alert and to work on preventing those lethal materials from entering the country, maintaining it is a national duty that entails the cooperation of all people.   

Pesticides importers complain

For about two years, many pesticides and chemical materials have been withheld in the country's different outlets and most importers complain their items do not come under the list and consider it to be a war on their livelihood. Further, they deny any claims blaming for the increase of cancer cases in Yemen.   

They further complain that Agriculture Ministry is trying to blackmail them especially when it conditions that all imports should be tested and examined in the origin country; wherein the importer is supposed to secure enough money for flight, stay and other expenses of ministry's officials.   

The Ministry of Agriculture further conditioned that pesticides and fertilizers should be imported just from European Union countries, Japan, Australia and Canada, something considered by businessmen importing from other countries to be wrongful and in the interest of those who import from these countries.  

In return, Fish and Agriculture Committee at Parliament called on Agriculture Ministry to release those materials withheld in different Yemeni outlets, particularly when they meet the international standards, hinting such an attitude deprived the state treasury from millions of hard currency resulting from customs and taxation.