By Shezna Shums
School students are to be provided incentives for their role in nurturing and growing coconut trees, in line with the government’s plan of establishing four million coconut trees in the country.
The Ministry of Coconut Development and Janatha Estates Development Board hope that by the end of this year to plant four million coconut trees to improve the country’s local coconut industry, which in turn will help secure sufficient coconuts for the local consumption as well as for the export market.
The Ministry is currently providing between two to five coconut saplings to year five students, for them to grow the saplings in their home gardens. Fertiliser is also to be provided to the students for this purpose.
Regular reports on the growth and development of these coconut trees will be recorded, and the students having the best records will be provided with scholarships with the assistance of the Education Ministry. These children are also to be provided assistance in their tuition and school supplies when they reach the A/L stage. This way the government expects to cultivate over 300,000 coconut saplings with the assistance of school children.
Also with the assistance of the Economic Development Ministry, within the Divi Neguma programme, families will be chosen and provided with coconut saplings and the fertiliser needed to grow them which will help to increase the number of coconut trees in the country.
In addition families of war heroes and Samurdhi beneficiaries will also be added to the national programme of growing coconut trees.
The Ministry of Coconut Development also proposes to promote growing pepper vines and banana trees also on these coconut lands. According to Ministry statistics there are about one million acres where coconut is cultivated providing a yield of over 2,500 million coconuts.
Last year the government was compelled to import coconuts for the local market as there was a short supply which resulted in the price of coconuts increasing sharply.
Currently the price of a single coconut varies from Rs. 35 to Rs. 54 according to its size. Most of the locally grown coconuts are consumed by the local population leaving only a small percentage available for exports and for the production of other value added coconut products.
Although there is a high demand for Sri Lankan coconuts in the world market the country is unable to meet the demand because coconut cultivation is not the main source of livelihood of the people. Coconut was one of our main export items some years ago, but countries like India, Philippines and Vietnam have overtaken Sri Lanka in this respect.
Some of the items derived from the coconut palm and coconuts in particular are edible coconut products, desiccated coconut, coconut oil, poonac, mattress fibre, bristle fibre, coconut shell charcoal and coconut ekels.