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Bahrain’s Farms Disappearing Under Concrete Towers

Suad Hamada

MANAMA, Jan 6 2011 (IPS) - Environmentalists are engaged in a nation-wide campaign to protect what is left of the agricultural belt in Bahrain. Seventy percent of farms have been eliminated due to urbanisation, according to environmentalists who are warning of a serious environmental crisis.

The 692 square kilometre island – with a population of 1,234,596 according to preliminary results of the census released in Nov. 2010 – has been involved in massive sea reclamation activities, but has also been turning farms in the Capital City area and the villages of the northern part of the country into residential areas.

“I know we are having serious housing problems as thousands of families are waiting for houses from the government for years,” Khawla Al Muhanadi, president of Bahrain Environment-Friendly Society, told IPS. But turning farms to housing projects cannot be accepted since half of Bahrain is a desert and empty, she says.

Three large farms in Manama were destroyed a few months back for private housing projects, while two others in Sanabis and Burhama are awaiting similar actions, according to the Environment-Friendly Society. “Most of those farms have been there for more than 150 years… they cannot be replaced somewhere else,” Khalwa says, noting that, “most of those lands are owned by the government and inside the agricultural belt.”

She warns that destroying the remaining 30 percent of farms in Bahrain could signal an end to the remaining ground water in the country.

By 2007, actual renewable water resources per capita have plunged to 154.5 cubic meters, according to the World Resources Institute.

Environmentalists are lobbying for lawmakers’ support to activate a law to protect palm trees that was endorsed in 1983 but never enforced. They are also pushing for further legislation to tackle the problem. Khawla notes that the existing palm tree protection law imposes a 500 Bahraini dinar (1,300 dollar) fine for anyone destroying a palm tree – but this law is not implemented.

Bahrain, despite its small size, was once named the country of one million palm trees thanks to its natural water resources that have started disappearing because of high population growth and consumption of sweet water resources.

The Minister of Municipalities and Urban Organisation, Juma Al Kaabi, told the press – while announcing a national agricultural strategy – that his ministry is trying to protect the agriculture sector for better food security. “It isn’t a government’s mistake,” the minister said. “Many changes have affected the sector, such as urbanisation, shortage of natural water and reduction of Bahraini farmers who opted for easier and rewarding jobs.”

Bahrain has 6,400 hectares of agricultural lands, in which only 69 percent are in use – the minister highlighted a plan to make use of the remaining. “The agriculture sector revenues contribute 23 percent to the GDP of around BD16.2 million [40.5 million dollars] annually,” Al Kaabi explained.

The Bahrain farming sector is mainly run by 9,120 expatriates – representing 68 percent of farmers.

Researcher Nader Al Masri feels that creating rewarding job opportunities for locals and increasing investment in the sector could ease the problem. “Farmers could be provided with more assistance to be promoted to continue in their jobs and to adopt modern irrigation methods.”

Bahraini farmer, Hussain Taher, is keeping his job out of his love of farming despite the poor government support and marketing of local vegetables and fruits. “We farmers are facing tough competition from imported fruits and vegetables, so the government should regulate the market to protect our interests,” he told IPS.

“The demands of tomatoes were previously met locally, but after the opening of the King Fahad Causeway – linking Bahrain with Saudi Arabia – most of the demands are now met from importation,” he says.

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