With a new variety of coconut on the island, and given the current thrust to revive what was once a thriving industry, the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands is ensuring that farmers are well versed in proper planting techniques and management of coconut husbandry.
This was done through a refresher workshop held in collaboration with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA)of , at the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), at Westerhall, St David recently, where 25 farmers and extension officers were exposed to some best practices that should be adhered to during and after cultivation of the crop.
These farmers have been the recipients of elite varieties of coconuts which were provided by the Ministry of Agriculture a couple of years ago. These high performing plants, ‘tall and dwarf varieties’, were initially donated through the efforts by IICA; however, having conducted an assessment on the different farms following the planting by farmers, the ministry saw that there was a need to provide some guidance and training in areas such as agronomy and general care of these plants.
Agronomist within the Ministry of Agriculture with responsibility for coconuts, Troy Augustine, facilitated the workshop and highlighted that proper weeding and adequate sunlight are 2 of the best practices in ensuring healthy coconut trees.
He said, “We are here today to ensure that these farmers, who have plots which are highly infested with weeds or those plots which are exposed to excessive amount of shade because coconuts really don’t do well under those conditions and moreover, the aforementioned situations tend to accelerate the growth (of the dwarf varieties), and while they should remain dwarf plants …at least 2 feet bearing on the ground, you have it growing all 4, 5 feet as a Dwarf Coconut Tree, it is against this backdrop that this training today is so very important.”
In highlighting the importance of the post-planting care of the introduced coconut varieties, Augustine also noted that intercropping constitutes a very important agronomic practice “so that the trees would improve the condition, as well as to take care of those periods when there is a drought.”
He also encouraged the practice of using mulch, fertiliser, and irrigation.
IICA Specialist, Derek Charles, also chimed in on the proper management of the coconut plants and said that once the practices are properly followed, farmers can reap full benefits from the plants.
“In the rehabilitation, two things we put forward; one – strengthening the capacity of the farmers and Extension Officers in the management of these new varieties; and secondly in order to rehabilitate an industry, we want improved varieties of good quality,” he said. “In most cases, we know farmers are keen on the fruit, the water, and the number of nuts that it bears, so we have catered for that in terms of the variety that we have selected.”
Chief Agricultural Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, Daniel Lewis, explained one of the reasons why the coconut industry must be resuscitated. He said, “We recognise that there is a need to improve the coconut situation in Grenada because coconut is in handicraft; a lot of people use coconut to make a lot of things, e.g. in local culinary such as oil down and soups, in the confectionery industry (fudge, cakes, turnovers, etc.), oil, the by-product is used in making brooms, mattress, as a substrate for cultivating anthurium and orchid flowers, etc. Coconut is part of the socio-economic, and cultural heritage of Grenada.”
He added that the germplasm of the plant must be maintained to avoid potential loss of biodiversity. “Whatever we have as local varieties and species of biodiversity, have, in a general sense, good adaptive capacity, acceptable productivity and maybe good tolerance to pests and diseases. We have to identify and save them because a country that does not put a lot of importance on germplasm management, will eventually lose these genetic resources and that certainly will be a big fiasco,” he said.
In expressing gratitude for the opportunity in participating in the workshop, 2 farmers shared some thoughts on the training initiative. “Some of the things that I have been practicing because I did my research earlier and for the people who did not do that type of research, getting that information, I think it is critical that they know what they are doing and what they are getting into. Coconut should be part of our staple,” Mark Anthony Francis said.
“My biggest take away from the session is knowing more about the crop, so that I would be more equipped to manage my farm better, because my aim is to do as much coconuts as possible; If possible, average, two-three acres,” said John Powlette.
Within the next 8 months, the ministry is hoping to have a follow-up session with the farmers to assess whether they are applying the information given to them through the aforementioned training workshop.
Ministry of Agriculture