The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Supermarket chains can play bigger role in coconut market: Lalit Godamunne


Supermarket chains can play a bigger role in the fresh coconut market, reduce costs in the value chain and help contain retail prices in the urban areas, noted a top coconut producer in a wide-ranging speech last week.These comments were made by Lalit Godamunne, new President of the Coconut Growers Association at its AGM held in Colombo on July 14. Addressing growers, members and guests that included Minister of Economic Development Basil Rajapaksa and Minister of Coconut Development and Janatha Estates Development Jagath Pushpakumara, he spoke on a range of issues including prices, export markets, coconut oil lobby and the health benefits of coconut, among other matters.

The industry provides direct and indirect livelihood to some 835,000 people and is essentially a poor man`s much needed protein supplement and, in many ways, his second staple diet.Complimenting the Government for the very attractive fertilizer subsidy scheme, he said he hoped this subsidy would be maintained for at least five years to ensure the full impact of fertilizer applications.

While there is an attractive loan scheme available to all coconut growers owning half to 50 acres and widespread distribution of coconut seedlings, the wildly-fluctuating farm gate prices is a source of concern that needs to be addressed urgently, he sai.

The farm gate price, he noted, has fallen as low as Rs 17 or 18 which to some growers is less than their cost of production. “This wide fluctuation makes it impossible to commit to any serious development programme involving capital expenditures as we cannot in any way predict our cash flows,” he said, adding: “I would recommend that the Government adopts the principle of maintaining a minimum farm gate price for coconuts via tariff adjustments in a timely manner”.

He urged the appointment of a committee of competent or knowledgeable, independent persons representing all stakeholders, to recommend tariff adjustments in a timely manner and to prevent disruption to investments and development of the coconut industry.
But, he pointed out, increasing productivity alone doesn’t increase incomes. In fact it runs the risk of reducing incomes if supply exceeds demand.

“This aspect of excess supply has already occurred with the paddy farmers, vegetable growers, banana growers and even milk producers. I am sure many of you have seen on our local TV news casts, farmers out in the streets demonstrating with not so friendly slogans demanding the purchase of their produce at reasonable prices which will give them incomes to repay their cultivation loans and maintain a reasonable standard of living,” he observed. Referring to changing (and more positive) attitudes towards coconut oil, he said marketing efforts must cash in on this to the country’s advantage.

“The medicinal properties are increasingly highlighted on Internet. Many of you would have seen the numerous videos on You-Tube extolling the medicinal virtues of coconut oil,” he noted, referring to recent reports where Dr Mary Newport MD of Spring Hill Regional Hospital Florida USA related her story of how she cured her husband of Alzheimer’s disease by giving him two teaspoons of pure coconut oil daily before breakfast. “The 1st edition of her book on the subject which came out in 2011 and was sold out within the week,” he said.
In other significant developments, the Pacific Ocean Island of Vanavatu has developed coconut oil as a bio fuel for 4-wheel SUVs. “These new developments in the use of coconut oil open out vast opportunities on which to build our marketing efforts,” Mr. Godamunne said.
“In other words production must go in tandem with markets. Production should be geared to market demands. We should not make the mistake of producing and then go looking for markets,” he asserted.

He spoke on the plight of Northern and Eastern coconut growers and also from the South.Many of the Northern and Eastern Growers who have regained possession of their proper

File pic of a coconut processing factory

ties are faced with a situation of having to rehabilitate their properties literally from scratch. This calls for considerable capital inputs which they are hard put to raise after the ravages of the war, he said, adding that the loan scheme should be adjusted to enable these people to fully participate in the programme.

Under the loan scheme at 10% interest and repayable over five years, there is provision for interest payments to be reimbursed in the first year if regular repayments are made. “The problem as I understand is that after the ravages of the war they have no basic incomes to repay loans until they start getting crops. This as every agriculturist knows is long drawn out. My suggestion is that this loan scheme takes cognizance of the particular problem and adjusts the scheme as a special project to enable these people to participate,” he observed.
A similar adjustment could be considered for the Southern coconut growers faced with loss of their trees due to a disease.

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