BAALBEK, Lebanon: Security forces resumed eradicating cannabis plants in the Baalbek-Hermel area Tuesday morning without incident, after the government pledged to compensate farmers and help to replace crops. The government has destroyed cannabis annually since 1992 but suspended a similar campaign this year after farmers put up armed resistance. Farmers blocked the main Yammouneh road and met bulldozers with guns and mortar shells. Two soldiers and two police officers were wounded in clashes. After the confrontation, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel visited Yammouneh to defuse tensions, promising to work on securing compensation and alternative crops. Having discussed the issue, the Cabinet decided to allocate LL45 billion annually for the next five years to support planting sugar beets and animal husbandry as substitutes for the drug. The money will also go toward establishing a modern irrigation system in the area. Tuesday, security forces razed crops without resistance from farmers. According to an Internal Security Forces’ statement, troops destroyed around 175 dunums in Deir al-Ahmar, Yammouneh, Aqoura and Marjahin. Some cannabis crops are likely to still be in the fields because they were planted late and have not yet matured enough for harvesting. Yammouneh Mayor Mohammad Shreif welcomed the eradication, so long as the government makes good on its promise to secure alternatives for local farmers. “The confrontations that took place in Yammouneh were motivated by the issue of developing Baalbek-Hermel,” he said. “For many years residents have waited for assistance from the state, but it didn’t come. There are no universities or job opportunities here, no other educational opportunities.
“In the name of the people of Yammouneh and its neighboring villages, I welcome the security forces assigned to destroy the cannabis crop, on the condition that alternatives are secured. This is the state’s duty.” But Shreif added that cannabis farmers would cultivate the crop again next year if appropriate alternatives are not in place before planting season. “The area is waiting for these alternatives by the end of winter and the start of spring, which is when cannabis is planted. If there are no substitutes for the area, all of it … will be planted with drugs and we will not allow their destruction,” he said. There have been multiple attempts by governments and nongovernmental organizations to convince farmers in the area to grow other crops, including saffron, sunflowers, beetroots, capers and tobacco. But none have been successful in replacing cannabis because the plant is relatively easy to grow, requires little water and can yield a large profit. The second stage of the state’s eradication campaign is expected to continue without incident. Before the confrontation, only 6,000 dunums of the plant were eliminated, out of an estimated 35,000 dunums of total cannabis. Some 29,000 dunums were harvested and are already in warehouses. This crop is expected to yield $35-40 million, which benefits around 3,000 families in the Baalbek-Hermel area. This is the first year since 1992 that the majority of the country’s cannabis crop has been harvested.
via : dailystar
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