BEIRUT: The agriculture minister Monday denied reports of locusts arriving in the coastal city of Sidon that could pose a grave threat to farmers in Lebanon, saying the government was ready to combat such infestations.
Akram Chehayeb told reporters at a news conference that he would also seek to compensate farmers whose crops were damaged by a recent cold snap in the north.
A cold wave on the nights of March 29-30 damaged almond and fruit trees in the Bekaa Valley and North Lebanon, as well as potato and vegetable crops.
Chehayeb said that Agriculture Ministry teams surveyed the damage to the crops and reported the results back to the Cabinet in a session Saturday, in a move that may lead to state compensation that would help farmers deal with the damage from uncertain weather conditions this year.
“Our hope is that this decision [by the Cabinet] will provide support to our farmers in lifting the hardship caused by the lack of water and this year’s cold wave,” Chehayeb told reporters at a news conference.
Chehayeb addressed a number of issues facing the agricultural sector that had arisen in recent days.
He said that this year’s climate had encouraged the early appearance of sunn insects in the country – a pest that feeds on barley and wheat crops and that could vastly reduce yields.
But Chehayeb said the Lebanese Army had provided helicopters that sprayed wheat fields in the country with the necessary pesticides to protect the crop.
Chehayeb also denied sightings of locusts in Sidon last week.
Several locusts had appeared in the southern coastal city of Sidon Friday, mostly in the downtown area and some in its suburbs, although officials said their numbers were small.
But Chehayeb said the weather was actually too cold for locusts. The ministry investigated the locust reports and determined that the sightings were of grasshoppers, he said, adding that the ministry was ready to face any wave of locusts that arrived in Lebanon.
Experts warned after locust sightings last year that global warming could bring more of the pests, potentially posing a threat to the country’s agriculture, especially as the desert locust has no natural predator in Lebanon.
Large numbers of the insects are capable of damaging crops and stripping fields of all vegetation.
Chehayeb also warned fruit and vegetable manufacturers to adhere to safety regulations, including on the use of pesticides.