Island’s editorial misses the wood for trees; coconuts and custard

by Pearl Thevanayagam

(December 25, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) Coconut is now sold at Rs 40 or more and the Island editorial places the blame on hoarders and diseases afflicting the coconut plantation. Does the editor remember the devastation caused in the North and East by the protracted war where many hectares of coconut and palmyrah plantations were decimated in the name of hounding out the LTTE rebels so they could not hide behind coconut and palm groves and conduct their guerrilla warfare?

Had the editor ventured into the North after it was conquered in December 1995 he would have seen the devastation of the North’s agriculture first-hand. When this writer visited Jaffna in1996 many hectares of coconut and palmyrah plantations were bulldozed by the security forces in their frenzied search for LTTE hideouts. The stretch from Jaffna Library to Holy Family Convent was a desert with all the buildings in between razed to the ground. But alas, he like many Southern Sinhalese, trusts the government and all it said in the absence of independent media reporting.

The North and South despite the end of the protracted war still remain estranged from each other as they were prior to the war recalling Rudyard Kipling’s prophesy that East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet. Kipling swinging in his hammock in India had sunshades blinding him to the rest of the world just as much as fellow colonials who saw anyone from the East as not civilized enough to be counted.

It takes 12 years for a coconut sapling to bear nuts. Of course modern science and technology ensured that now we have coconuts yielding in just three years. Ditto for mangoes, ambarella and avocados; not unlike our now generation who give birth to children in their teens without the security of a decent home to their offspring in the absence of dowry and early start without parental funds.

Time was when we never paid for coconuts; we had them aplenty at least in our homes in the North. Papaw, murunga and plantains were homegrown and never paid for in the open market although we paid dearly for pineapple, avocado, leeks, carrots, cabbage and butter beans. The latter five were equivalent to imported cheese and broiler chicken only bought at Elephant House during a visit to Colombo.

Just as much as tea exports took a backseat to garment factories and Middle East employment as prime forex earners, coconuts need to be imported thanks to the LTTE and the government and the war. How many coconuts were planted in the President’s 1.1 million tree planting scheme in November? How many saplings have survived and which ministry is in charge of nurturing those plants?

War is over but the economy is going downhill. It is predicted that war wreaks havoc on a country’s economy but if it has able leadership it can bounce back with more vigour. The honeymoon being over after the defeat of the LTTE the government has still not put in place measures to uplift poverty and control inflation. Rather it is beating the drums of promises that better days are nigh. Sri Lanka would soon become a concrete jungle and not the agricultural national it once used to be.

Christmas and NewYear would soon be over and the public would soon start agitating over food prices as the Sinhala and Tamil New Year approaches. It also co-incides with the second anniversary of defeating the LTTE. The public is sick and tired of tamashas and promises. It would soon start demonstrating against government spending the budget lavishly on the giant cabinet of ministers and their perks and showcase airports and harbours which benefit only those at the top and those close to the government and of course India and China.

These two countries do not have our interest at heart; they would not shed one drop of tear if our people starve unlike the West which truly want to raise the country from the devastation of the protracted ethnic war.

Come next election the performance of this government would leave very frustrated voters who would vote for any party other than the present one. Hitting a hungry stomach certainly will not win kudos for the government and it should start preparing for early retirement.

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