Apart from wreaking havoc on the population and economy of coastal Orissa,the super-cyclone of 1999 had claimed another victim its coconut plantation. The rows of coconut trees dotting the coastline were not just a delight for the eyes,but also supplemented the income in many impoverished rural households of the state. But as the strong winds pummeled the states coast,26,836 hectares of coconut garden with 46,96,300 palms were either uprooted or their crowns completely damaged,causing a loss of Rs 4,500 crore. Most of the trees lost their valuable leaves and spadices in their varying stages of development.
Now,more than 12 years after the natural disaster,the horticulture department is working on an ambitious coconut cultivation programme that aims not only to bring back the old crowning glory,but also make Orissa one of the top three states in terms of coconut productivity and area under plantation.
Currently,Orissa produces 3,567 lakh nuts annually,which puts it at number seven,with Kerala and Tamil Nadu topping the list. Orissa could have been among the top five states,but with 70 per cent of the coconuts getting plucked when they are tender,very little mature coconuts are left from which the state can make money.
With this in mind,the horticulture department is now planning to plant dwarf,hybrid and tall variety coconut seedlings over 2,000 hectares of land,in addition to the existing 53,000 hectares,in 2012-13. The department will need 4.4 lakh coconut seedlings for the 2,000 hectares,of which 2 lakh can be arranged by the department. The rest will come from the Coconut Development Board (CDB).
Of the Rs 48,000 needed for each hectare,farmers would now get Rs 24,000 and another Rs 4,000 from the CDB. Besides,the department is planning to give a subsidy of Rs 24,500 per hectare to farmers who are already growing coconut so that they can use vermicompost for more yield. To help the coconut farmers get vermicompost,the department is now building 200 vermicompost units across Orissa at a cost Rs 28,000 each.
In a poor state like Orissa,coconut plant can be the vehicle that can take a poor farmer out of the clutches of poverty. What we are trying to do is a little handholding, says Sanjiv Kumar Chadha,Director,Horticulture. Chadha hopes with the plants bearing fruit in the next six to seven years,the farmers can start making good money out of the coconut groves.
While the coconuts would continue to grow,the department is also planning to promote inter-cropping,as coconut possesses the unique characteristic of allowing any crop combination in the inter-spaces. A well-spaced coconut garden provides adequate inter-spaces where it is possible to grow a variety of crops,both seasonal and perennial. In widely spaced gardens,the shade from the coconut palms is not intense enough to prevent the growth of other crops. We are planning to tell farmers to plant elephant foot yam,ginger,turmeric and even rose in those spaces, says Sushant Kumar Das,a climatologist with the department who is overseeing the coconut plantation. In Puri district,farmers are growing mushroom,the first of its kind in the country,in the coconut groves.
If all goes as planned,officials hope Orissa will cross the national average of 70 nuts per plant in the next few years,as compared to 47 now. For each coconut plant,100 nuts is the optimum number.
Once productivity goes up,the department hopes to spawn off associated industries like coir and coconut water bottling plant.