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DateLine Thursday, 18 October 2007

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Saving the coconut industry

The decision to impose a tax of Rs.300,000 for every acre of fragmented coconut land is a move in the right direction. It is hoped that this would put a halt to cannibalisation of the country’s vast coconut plantations that is going unchecked.

Not stopping at this the Government should also embark on a vigourous replanting programme in order to make up for the dwindling acreage of coconut land in the country. Today the huge demand for housing has made prime coconut land the major victim of property developers.

One has only to take a ride along the stretch to Chilaw or Puttalam road to witness the vast expanses of barren land which were once rich coconut plantations. This is also the same in other parts of the North Western Province where denuded coconut lands is the norm.

If this depredation continues there will come a time when we would have to resort to imports to meet the local demand - an irony considering that coconut was once the country’s foremost export crop alongside tea and rubber which brought in the foreign exchange.

Today while tea holds its premier status the other two crops have hit bad times. Therefore immediate measures are needed to resurrect the coconut industry which apart from providing a livelihood to a vast majority is also dependent by almost 70 per cent of our population for their consumption needs.

However, it is doubtful if the Rs.300,000 tax par acre is going to be any deterrent against the parcelling of coconut land given the massive housing boom that has now sweeping the country’s landscape.

Since the Government cannot prevent coconut landowners from disposing of their acreages it should consider introducing some form of incentive scheme in order to arrest this trend before it is too late.Because leaving out the economic aspect the coconut has been an integral part of our domestic set up and forms the main component of our indigenous food and other preparations.

It therefore behoves the Government to prevent the crop from extinction and take prompt measures for regeneration. Today the fate that has befallen the coconut industry could be gauged by the high prices of coconut in the open market and also coconut oil.

Overall production has dwindled and demand has outstripped the supply. Mill owners too complain about a drop in business and the lack of incentives while growers are experimenting with crop diversity on coconut land which all points to the ailing state of our coconut industry.

The coconut that was taken for granted by Lankan folk is today turning out to be a luxury item. The Government therefore while taking measures to prevent the parcelling of coconut land should evolve a national policy to protect the crop and save it from extinction.

It should immediately form a body of experts in the field to devise way to foster the growth of coconut cultivation and enthrone the coconut to the state of its pristine days.


Looming energy crisis

The revelation made by Sustainable Energy Authority Chairman Ananda S.Gunasekera that the world is unlikely to find a viable solution to the energy crisis in the next 20-30 years should ring alarm bells here in Sri Lanka which is grappling with recurring power crisis situations.

Addressing Zonal Educational Directors to educate them on Energy Conversation the Chairman warned of a depletion of fossil fuel and that until discovery of such viable energy renewable sources the people would have to undergo difficulties.

Coming from an expert of his calibre the Government needs to sit up and take note of the full implications of this warning. The country is already burdened with a huge fuel bill to operate diesel powered generators which we can ill afford given the recurrent rise in world oil prices.

With expanding development that includes the Eastern rebuilding the fuel bill could mount to unbearable proportions. The country’s overdependence of hydro power has put us into a panic mode with the Government looking to tap all available sources of energy to meet the snowballing demand.

Projects such as Norochcholai and Kerawalapitiya have high gestation periods and would not come to our immediate assistance. Most of the other smaller projects too are still on the drawing boards. The only opinion left therefore is conservation on a large scale until we are able to tide over this period.

We are not holding any bets for this to be a huge success or the idea to be great hit with our large gadget oriented society. Even Government departments and institutions are guilty of massive energy waste.

It is high time the authorities set about tackling the energy crisis with more seriousness taking into account the larger picture.. The Government should embark on stepped up drive to drill into the public the need for energy conservation given the looming threat. All state institutions, the private sector and schools should be coopted for this exercise.
 

A new forum for the developing world

We wish to see our countries’ strengths in the fields of agriculture, trade, technology, and energy translated into meaningful initiatives in the cause of South-South solidarity. The combined resources of our pharmaceutical industries should be put at the service of countries, particularly in Africa, that are highly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and other devastating pandemic diseases.

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The Hyphen War and the Velvet Divorce

Some years ago there was what the English language newspapers called a ‘Hyphen War.’ It was not a war with guns and bombs, it was what you might call a war of words. The ‘war’ was over the name Czechoslovakia.

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National Service: the way to discipline a nation

The proposed National Service in Sri Lanka must be built on strong principles of non-discrimination, non-violence, equality, equity and fair play. Every youth enlisted to do national service must be equally treated irrespective of the standing of his or her parents in society.

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