An international consultation with local and foreign coconut experts was held at the Coconut Research Institute earlier this month, where it was highlighted that there should be a better mechanism for information to flow among the delegates to learn and address the various problems affecting coconut plantations.
Coconut plantations are a profitable industry in the South Asian region and several countries have recorded deadly diseases, however to date there has been no uniform means of communication where these experts can come together and share their information and know how to deal with these current problems.
Coconut Research Board Chairman Prof. H.P.M. Gunasena emphasised on the need of establishing an independent forum or a global network of experts, scientists and practitioners from coconut growing countries to develop methodologies for quick detection of the pathogen and vectors and to initiate research on identification and breeding of tolerant varieties of coconut.
Following the consultation it was recommended to establish a Technical Committee to develop a research project and appoint Prof. Gunasena as its Chairman. The membership of this committee shall constitute all the representative countries and experts participating in the consultation. The Coconut Research Institute hosted the two day international consultation on phytoplasma diseases of coconut earlier this month with the Asian Pacific Coconut Community (APCC), an intergovernmental organisation established under UN-ESCAP to discuss and find out how the coconut wilt diseases that are affecting over 300,000 coconut trees in the southern part of Sri Lanka can be addressed and eradicated.
At this international seminar were Chief Guest Minister of Coconut Development and Janatha Estate Development Jagath Pushpakumara and Executive Director of APCC Romulo Arancon. It was highlighted that this consultation was timely because of the serious threat to coconut plantations in the Southern Province due to a disease caused by phytoplasma. This disease was first noted in 2007 and has rapidly spread in the Galle, Matara and Hambantota Districts and has become a serious concern as it is adversely affecting the livelihoods of the people of those districts, the Minister highlighted.
Minister Pushpakumara had also stated that the Coconut Research Institute had taken several initiatives to manage this disease and they are being implemented through a Steering Committee appointed by the Ministry, with the assistance of the District Secretary of Matara District.
The Minister said that the total coconut production in the country is about 2,800 million nuts, domestic consumption is around 2,000 million nuts and the balance is utilised for making coconut oil, copra and several other industrial products.
The Ministry has been successful in persuading the Government to give a subsidy to the coconut growers at Rs. 1,200 per 50 kg bag designated as ‘Kapruk Diriya Programme’ and the anticipated increase in production is about 5% annually and within five years to achieve a total production of 3,500 million nuts. This is expected to meet the total requirement for domestic consumption and the industry.
Secretary of the Ministry Anura Siriwardena outlined that the strategies that are being implemented to manage the Weligama coconut wilt disease of coconut. As coconut is a livelihood crop, a crop diversification programme is being concurrently implemented to compensate the coconut growers.