Aiming to maximise on a Rs. 50 billion fertiliser subsidy, the Government yesterday announced the launch of an ambitious national coconut cultivation plan that aims to introduce new products to be manufactured in partnership with the private sector.
The move comes on the back of a coconut shortage that saw prices shooting up to all time high of Rs. 60 per nut.
Coconut Development Minister Jagath Pushpakumara told the media that with the multi-pronged plan in place, the industry’s contribution to Gross Domestic Production (GDP) would increase from the current 1.1% to 1.4%.
The Ministry is also planning to introduce new coconut-based products that will be developed with the participation of the private sector within the next two months.
Pushpakumara remarked that private companies were currently having discussions with the Coconut Cultivation Board on ways to bottle coconut and king coconut water. He pledged to introduce new coconut-based products within the next two months as well.
In the short-term the Ministry is educating the people of the new fertiliser subsidy that will enable people to purchase a 50 kg pack of fertiliser for Rs. 1,200, which is less than half the previous market price. With the universal application of the subsidy for all crops, the need to fill out forms has been suspended and anyone can purchase fertiliser for the Government specified amount from companies.
“Sri Lanka has to produce at least 3.5 billion nuts every year for domestic consumption and exports. However, in 2010 the numbers dropped to as low as 2.3 billion nuts, creating shortages and price hikes in the market. There are several reasons for this, one is the changing weather patterns, another is the attack of disease that has resulted in over 300,000 trees having to be cut down and fewer trees being grown,” he explained.
He pointed out that usually an acre of coconut land should have 64 trees, but that in most instances only 40 odd have been planted. The Coconut Cultivation Board is currently working to increase this and insists that they have targeted growing four million plants this year, twice the production in 2010. Once the plans are distributed coconut growers will have the chance to use more fertiliser and increase the yield per acre.
“This year alone we have plans to plant four million coconuts,” the Minister said adding that schools, 2600 temples and 50, 000 families that are part of the ‘Divi Neguma’ programme will all be given coconut seedlings to plant. At present 17% of Sri Lanka’s agriculture land is used for coconut growth, which is estimated to be around 395,000 hectares. Around 70% of the growers are small and medium plantations and around 700,000 people are estimated to be directly or indirectly depending on the industry for their livelihood.
“We are also concentrating on promoting growth in the north and east. These provinces had their coconut cultivations destroyed in the war and we hope to rejuvenate it within the next few years.”
Two of the biggest problems for the coconut industry have been disease and insect attacks. For the former the government is introducing a new type of coconut that is resistant to disease and is also breeding a new type of bug to devour the insects and prevent them from attacking the tree while it is bearing fruit.