By Shezna Shums
A total of 300,000 coconut trees have been infected with a leaf withering and leaf rotting disease in the southern part of the island. Since this condition is incurable the authorities have suggested that the trees be cut down to avoid the disease from spreading to coconut trees in other parts of the country.
Acting Director of the Coconut Research Institute Dr. Jayantha Gunathilake confirmed that this disease which is a type of Phytoplasma disease is incurable and that the infected trees should be cut down.
“We have to gradually cut these trees to avoid the disease from spreading further,” he stressed. Reports show that about 20,000, coconut trees infected by this disease have already been cut down, the latest being 1000 trees cut down earlier this week in the Weligama area.
Trees infected with this disease have been found especially in the Tangalle and Kirinda areas in the Hambantota District and Akuressa in the Matara District and are spread over an area 88 kilometres long and three kilometers wide.
As an inducement to the coconut cultivators to destroy the infected trees the authorities have decided to pay a compensation of Rs.2000 per tree that is cut down.
In this backdrop the Coconut Research Institute is holding a two day seminar at the Coconut Research Institute in Lunuwila on 15 and 16 June where International and local experts, academics and officials of the Agriculture Department will discuss methods to eradicate this problem. The seminar is to be presided over by the Minister of Coconut Development Jagath Pushpakumara. A field visit following this seminar has also been arranged.
“This disease was prevalent in Indonesia and also some other countries and we are inviting scientists from these countries to come here and have discussions with local scientists and other academics on how to handle this problem,” highlighted Gunathilake.
Authorities confirmed that consideration was being given to planting other crops on these coconut lands once the affected trees have been cut down together with new varieties of coconut trees that could withstand the disease in order to tide over this difficult situation.