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JIS News

The coconut industry like many others is vulnerable to the predicted active hurricane season, which has already manifested itself in the form of Hurricanes Dennis and Emily, and measures are therefore being implemented to protect coconut growers and the industry against the possibility of extensive losses.
Director of Research at the Coconut Industry Board (CIB), Basil Been tells JIS News that the Board has been encouraging growers to insure their products and properties under the Board’s Common Fund scheme. “We live in the hurricane belt, and what we are doing is encouraging farmers to register and there is an insurance that we administer. It costs about $4.50 per $100 of insurance and the maximum farmers can get for a tree is $500”.
Mr. Been expresses the concern that many farmers have been reluctant to register and point out that only eight farmers had insured their property before the passage of Hurricane Ivan last year. He however suggests an added scheme that should serve to further encourage the farmers to register with the Board. “The Board has an automatic insurer, and if a farmer sells coconuts to the Board, for every 100 nuts that is sold, the farmers gets $65 that goes towards an automatic insurance. Therefore even if the farmer takes nothing from his pocket but has been selling to the Board for specially approved uses, the farmer would’ve been building up automatic insurance,” he explains.
Continuing, the Director notes that this is a significant change from the days when the Board and farmers operated under the ‘copra system’, a traditional method of extracting oil from dried coconut flesh, which did not provide the farmers with as much coverage.
“The copra system was linked to how much nuts were sold for copra but we have moved away from this system and we process coconuts for various purposes, so people who sell coconut to the Board for these purposes can build up automatic insurance”.
Mr. Been further points to an additional insurance scheme which farmers can also access to protect their property if they do not sell enough nuts to the Board in order to access the automatic insurance scheme. “If the farmers do not sell enough coconuts to have a vast amount of automatic insurance, they can then take out what is called a contractual insurance. The maximum that they can insure any one tree for is $500”.
However unlike former years there is a final cut off registration date this year. “We normally tell the farmers to register and an extension is given but the end of July this year is the final cut off and if you have not registered by then the Board will not be able to accommodate you,” Mr. Been informs.
He further points out that the extension to July is to serve as an encouragement to the farmers. “This extension to July is to further encourage the farmers to insure their crops”.
Coconut farmers are urged to take heed as during last year’s Hurricane Ivan, the growers suffered losses resulting in a high nut fall, increases in risk and exposure to diseases such as the devastating lethal yellowing disease and low production output. The Director informs that the recovery of the industry could take up to two years to return to normalcy.
“We are recovering, Hurricane Ivan did not blow down a lot of trees probably less than five percent but many trees which stood were badly battered. Once a tree is badly battered then the nuts tend to fall prematurely. The recovery process was not as good as it could have been and to complicate matters, we find that yields in coconuts vary during the year and April tends to be the month of lowest production,” Mr. Been explains. Following Hurricane Ivan was a severe drought. Mr. Been points out, “this aggravated the situation and therefore the recovery was not as good as it could have been and April which is traditionally the lowest period of production fell into the drought period”.
Coupled with the drought were the diseases, which emerged after Hurricane Ivan to affect the trees. The Director explains how these diseases affected the production yields of the growers. “Some of the trees, which were battered, were subsequently affected by lethal yellowing, bud rot and various organisms and died and this affected the growers,” Mr. Been explains.
He explains that recently there has been a resurgence of the very dangerous lethal yellowing disease. “It seems the organism which causes it, called a cytoplasm has mutated and varieties (coconuts) which had previously shown good resistance to the disease are now dying in quantities higher than usual”.
He further explains that bud rot is the other disease, which has caused problems for the farmers since hurricane Ivan. “It is caused by a fungus which affects the growing point of the coconut tree, the coconut has one growing point and once that growing point has been destroyed the tree will not produce any new leaves or any more flowers. The leaves and fruits which are on the tree can still be used but gradually once they have died the whole tree dies because there is no new leave production”, Mr. Been explains.
The Board has however given advice to the farmers as to how to combat the disease. “What we suggest for bud rot, before the onset of wet weather, is to use redomil as a prophylactic spray. It is a systemic fungicide to spray the plant in advance,” Mr Been explains.
Continuing, he notes that if the farmer sees a plant that has bud rot, they should cut the tree down, burn it if possible and spray the heart of the surrounding trees with a fungicide. “It is worth it in the end, because if your tree is producing 60 nuts per year, it’s going to take another six or seven years before another tree in that similar spot comes to full bearing,” he notes.
The Director further informs that the Board encourages the farmers to practice safe sanitation at all times. He also notes that in assisting in the post hurricane recovery process the Board also provides free seedlings to registered farmers as well as fertilizers and small grants.
Mr. Been emphasises that registration with Board as a key factor in aiding farmers to recover from disasters. “There are benefits to be gained from registering,” he says. However, and the Board is advising farmers to be aware of the type of trees they should grow in order to protect against the heavy loss of nuts after hurricanes. There are two types of coconut trees grown in Jamaica – the Malayan Dwarf and the Maypan.
Mr. Been explains that the Maypan is more resistant to the heavy winds and rainfall of hurricanes and that even though both types have their advantages farmers should try to grow the Maypan. In respect to the Malayan Dwarf, the Director informs that farmers could look at the option of picking the fruits from the tree before the disaster.
Mr. Been further explains that the Board has been encouraging farmers to plant coconuts in non-traditional areas as they seek to combat the effects of the lethal yellowing disease.
What does the future hold for the coconut Industry? Mr. Been tells JIS News that the Board is seeking to diversify the use of coconuts as well as encourage the farmers to intercrop. “We must look at product diversification, instead of just making copra as we use to do, we’re making coconut water and we are encouraging people to make coconut cream. We are advising people to use the coconut husk and shells to make products,” he explains. Additionally, the Research Director says the Board has also been developing a cottage industry. “We have identified various products that can be made from the coconut and the Board has embarked on a programme to train farmers on how to make these products,” he explains.
He further notes that the CIB was encouraging the farmers to ensure that the products that they make are of a consistently good quality, as this would ensure the continued development of the cottage industry.
In respect to intercropping, Mr. Been says that farmers are being encouraged to plant other products along with their coconut plants in order to broaden their earning options.
“Our long-term goal is to maximise the use of the coconut and modernise our process. We think there is a tremendous future for the industry. The whole aim is to make the small coconut grower better off and self sustaining,” Mr. Been informs.