Harmony sprouts from coconut seedlings | Daily News
Coconut Home Garden Project in Northern Province

Harmony sprouts from coconut seedlings

A few pictures from their coconut seedling distribution programme.
A few pictures from their coconut seedling distribution programme.

It is a beautiful morning in the latter part of 2017; I was travelling to the Northern Province and had a stopover for breakfast at the Coconut Cultivation Board’s guesthouse at its Palai coconut estate. I was with a few others who were also going to Jaffna to attend a Steering Committee meeting of a proposed development project on the revitalization of coconut in the northern part following the armed conflict.

I was the Head of the Genetics and Plant Breeding Division of the Coconut Research Institute (CRI). Janaka Dharmakeerthi, the then Additional Secretary of the Plantation Industries Ministry was also with us. Though there were several programmes in the project, Dharmakeerthi asked me if hybrid coconut seedlings could be given to poor families in that area.

During that time, the CRI owned only one coconut seed garden which was at Ambakelle. They produced a limited number of hybrid seeds; that resulted in the short supply of seedlings for coconut growers in the main coconut-growing areas. However, at that time, there was the CRI’s Pallama Seed Garden, which was being established with several mother palms in the bearing stage. “If funding and support can be given, I can convert Pallama into a hand pollination unit and produce hybrid seeds under the Northern programme,” was my reply.

Dharmakeerthi immediately offered me Rs. five million to proceed. With this initial funding and the funding received as part of a treasury-funded project to the CRI, and with the full-pledged support from the then CRI Chairman Jayantha Jayewardene and the then CRI Director, Dr. Priyanthie Fernando, we developed the Pallama Seed Garden into a hand pollination unit and geared a massive hand pollination programme to achieve 100,000 coconut hybrid seedlings within the project period. Since then we have completed the distribution of two seedlings each to 15,000 families in the Jaffna Peninsula. Roshan Jayathilake, Seed and Seedling Certification Officer CRI as the chief project-implementing officer rendered a dedicated service to the project.

Seedling transport and distribution activities were assisted by the Coconut Cultivation Board and Government Agents (GAs) in the respective GA divisions in the Jaffna Peninsula, who welcomed the programme and helped immensely in coordinating the seedling distribution work. Another 20,000 seedlings are to be distributed in the Jaffna Peninsula in the next few weeks to complete 35,000 families there.

A programme is underway to distribute 30,000 seedlings to 15,000 families in Kandy, Kegalle and Ratnapura districts as a separate project using seedlings produced from the same project for which approval is granted by CRI Chairman Director Jayantha Wickramasinghe and CRI Director Dr. Sanatanie Ranasinghe. Dr. Athula Nainayake and Dr. Kasun Meegahakumbura are coordinating the seedling distribution work in Kandy, Kegalle and Ratnapura districts.

I recently informed Dharmakeerthi about the progress of the project. His reply was “Thank you Dr. Perera, I highly appreciate your efforts. It’s not only coconut that is grown in the Northern Province, but also National harmony.”

With the strengthening of the home garden programme, it is expected to increase the National coconut production, harness the full potential of hybrid coconuts and make poor families self-sufficient in coconut and reduce the burden of demand for coconut from small home gardens leaving surplus nuts to the important coconut processing sector.