By Shezna Shums
The current leaf wilt disease affecting coconut trees in the Southern Province is estimated to affect six per cent of the national coconut production this year.
Sri Lanka’s national coconut production is a total of 2,900 million nuts and the current local demand is 2,000 million nuts per year
Chairman of the Coconut Research Institute Professor H.P.N. Gunasena said that this disease would only affect a small percentage of the country’s annual coconut production.
“Most of the affected coconut trees are in the southern region, in small home cultivations. The affected trees amount to a negligent amount of only about six per cent so it is not a big problem,” he explained.
Commenting on efforts to increase coconut production, Gunasena said there were large coconut cultivations in the North Western Province and the Western Province, while the Government had also commenced coconut cultivations in the Northern Province and other districts to increase the national coconut production. “The Government aims to increase coconut production to about 3,500 million nuts per year and we may see this in the next two to three years,” he said.
To date around 20,000 coconut trees have been felled since 2007 when this disease was first detected in Sri Lanka. In total 300,000 coconut trees have been recorded having this leaf wilt disease.
For each coconut tree felled, compensation of Rs. 2,000 is granted, while the Coconut Research Institute will promote other crops to be grown in these former coconut cultivation lands, such as cinnamon, banana, ginger and other spices. The Coconut Research Institute stated that in Sri Lanka the Weligama Coconut Leaf Wilt Disease (WCWLD) was first identified in the Southern Province and that it had become a serious threat to the coconut industry.
The Ministry of Coconut Development, Janatha Estate Development and the Coconut Research Institute have taken various measures to manage the disease, but due to its debilitating nature a permanent cure cannot be expected.
The main strategy is to identify the affected palms and remove them in order to reduce the density of the pathogen and prevent its spread to other coconut growing areas of the country. In the long term, resistant coconut varieties have to be developed.
Countries where phytoplasma caused wilt diseases are prevalent have undertaken research on detection of the causal agents, vectors and other management strategies to contain the disease. However, to date this information remains scattered.
The Asia Pacific Coconut Community (APCC), an intergovernmental organisation for the development of coconut industries based in Jakarta, Indonesia, has organised the Sri Lanka-APCC collaborative ‘International Consultation on Phytoplasma Diseases in Coconut’ seminar along with the Ministry of Coconut Development, Janatha Estate Development and the Coconut Research Institute of Sri Lanka.
The seminar is being held from 15 to 17 June at the Coconut Research Institute and will assess the prevalence of phytoplasma and similar disease in coconut and inventorise the efforts and technologies developed, including the strategies to prevent the spread of the disease.
Researchers, experts and practitioners from different coconut growing countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, India, West Indies, Papua New Guinea, Ecuador, Mexico, United Kingdom, France, Sri Lanka and Egypt are participating in this consultation.
From the Coconut Research Institute 14 scientists and another three from other local research institutes and universities are participating, while two presentations will be made by the CRI scientists on the present status of the WCLWD and management strategies.
The objectives of these consultations will be to establish a regional network of researchers and practitioners undertaking research and development on phytoplasma leaf wilt disease of coconut, to build and add value to the national efforts already implemented by Sri Lanka and India which are seriously affected by the coconut leaf wilt disease through collaboration and sharing of technologies.
The consultations will also look at intensifying collection, testing, mass rearing and exchange of local and exotic bio-control agents of vectors; contributing to the vigorous awareness campaign of the disease and identifying strategies on how to empower coconut farmers; enabling them to enhance their knowledge to prevent the spread of the disease together with other compatible methods of disease management; and developing a regional collaborative project for the control and management of phytoplasma diseases in coconut for donor funding. Other important aspects will also be to identify the technical methods by other countries to control this disease and to find out the most practical solutions for the affected coconut growers in the Southern Province.