A training exercise was held on Thursday of last week at the Pesticide Control Board in Central Farm for 40 farmers as part of a Regional Project to boost coconut production. Farmers were able to learn about the pre-nursery and nursery procedures for growing coconuts as well as the multi-uses of this traditional product.
This latest information exchange makes Belizean farmers the beneficiaries of a European Union financed project, “Coconut Industry Development for the Caribbean” through the Geneva-based International Trade Centre (ITC). The project is aimed at enhancing the competitiveness of small-scale coconut farmers by identifying market opportunities, creating synergies between national and regional programs and improving access to advisory services for improved coconut production. The Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) had been contracted by the ITC to implement the project activities in nine CARIFORUM member countries. These benefiting countries are Belize, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago.
In Belize CARDI will be spending an estimated Bz. $40,000.00 on coconut nurseries as well as training farmers in integrated pest management.
At the beginning of the workshop on Thursday, Manuel Trujillo, who is in charge of the coconut project in Central Farm, told farmers that there were now some 3000 acres of coconut under cultivation in Belize. He reminded farmers that growing coconuts creates employment in the rural areas and is compatible with the environment. Belize’s expert authority on crops also said that he foresees a growth in the coconut industry. Additionally, coconuts are now used to produce oil, artifacts, beauty and industrial products and could be an important source for foreign exchange.
Also joining the farmers on Thursday was Dr. Compton Paul, Director of the Coconut Industry Project for the Caribbean, who is based at the CARDI Headquarters in Trinidad and Tobago. Dr. Compton Paul told farmers that the ITC wants to increase more funding to the coconut industry, but there was need for more productivity from our coconut plantations.
“We have to rehabilitate plantations that have been abandoned, to increase production, we need to inject new germplasm into these plantations,” he said.
As part of the exercise, it is now necessary to map each country under the project to discover what coconut varieties are being used and where. Such information along with all nodes of the coconut industry value chain will be stored within a database being developed at CARDI in Trinidad. This database will benefit all coconut stakeholders at the national, regional and international levels.
Travelling with Dr. Compton Paul is Evans Ramkhelawan, an agronomist from CARDI, who also shared his knowledge with farmers on growing coconuts. He said that growing the Caribbean’s mainstay requires high quality coconut planting material, fertile soil and the application of best agricultural practices. He said that the result of all these activities will result in the tall or dwarf varieties of coconuts that thrive within the Caribbean. Tall varieties of coconuts, he said, can grow for 100 years and have 60 years of production--fully bearing at the seventh year. While the tall coconut varieties are for copra production, the dwarf varieties are useful for water.
Within the coconut there is a food reserve that will sustain growth for a limited time. The seedling must receive irrigation during the dry season and have correct spacing for growth. For there to be seed germination, there is need for cool and moist conditions. Evan Ramkhelawan believes that both organic and inorganic fertilizers can also be used to boost germination.
In Belize, coconut farmers have been growing the Yellow Malayan Dwarf that now exists in Central Farm, Cayo. There are also the golden Malayan Dwarfs, with its red and thin trunk, but is not commercially produced. The Brazilian Green dwarf is now being grown in 300 acres at Blue Creek in Orange Walk, with the germplasm having been sourced from El Salvador. There is also the Chactemal Hybrid that has been sourced from Tabasco, Mexico.
By having a variety of coconuts; especially at the research station in Central Farm, we are assured of having some production despite the entry of plant diseases. In Belize, Lethal Yellowing was first detected in the 1980’s, which destroyed a majority of the local tall coconut palms. As a result, a successful coconut hybridization program was established in 1985 in Central Farm by the Ministry of Agriculture. The objective was to produce high quality coconut seedling, which were tolerant to Lethal Yellowing Disease.
Farmers from around the Country were able to visit the coconut planting section in Central Farm on Thursday to learn the varioaus growing techniques. Belize’s food security is also assured by having a secure coconut industry and farmers were reminded last week that their work will continue to be rewarded.