Before the 60’s, paddy plants were taller than what we now see in the fields and it was the “Green Revolution” of that decade that dwarfed the plants and significantly enhanced the global output of Asia’s most consumed staple.
What if the same happened to coconut trees?
There is a dwarf variety of coconut trees that Bangladesh is now importing from Vietnam and India. It has higher yield potential and is less vulnerable to coastal cyclones, and pests.
Dwarf coconut trees are only about three metres tall while their local cousins can grow over 25 metres.
This height shortcoming actually gives them the advantage. As they are short, they can be better maintained, particularly against certain kinds of pests like the Eriophyid mites, which are widely blamed for the recent drop in coconut production in Bangladesh.
Native varieties are tall and hence are difficult to look after, particularly when attacked by semi-microscopic organisms like the Eriophyid.
“The fact that the dwarfs are very short also gives them better chance in the coastal areas to survive cyclones,” said Mehedi Masud, director at the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE).
Compared to their tall native cousins, the dwarf ones take half the time, just three years, to start producing coconuts and they are up to four times more productive than the homegrown ones.
On average, a native variety produces around 50-60 coconuts a year, while the dwarfs would produce around 200 and that too for similar production and input costs.
For the last couple of years, the DAE has been encouraging farmers to plant the dwarf variety. In 2016, it distributed 210,000 saplings around the country.
Farmers who used the saplings are happy as the dwarf plants can be well taken care of due to their small size. Shorter maturing age and greater production would hopefully pay dividends in the coming years.
Eriophyid mites have been causing severe damage to native coconut trees in Bangladesh, resulting in huge losses since 2004-05. In more recent years, cultivation has been increasing but the volume of production has dropped.
In 2012-13, coconuts were cultivated on 50,971 hectares of land around the country and production that year was 591,781 tonnes. Two years later, 51,699 hectares were used but production came down to 514,060 tonnes, largely due to the mites.
Mehedi Masud told The Daily Star, “This [dwarf] variety will not only increase production but also help expand the coconut industry in Bangladesh.”
A couple of years ago, the DAE’s Horticulture Wing first brought 7,000 saplings of the dwarf hybrid variety, DJ Sampurna, from India’s Kerala and distributed them around the country. In February 2016, another 210,000 saplings of the Open Pollinated (OP) dwarf variety were brought from Vietnam.
Officials said both the varieties have better record against Eriophyid mite attacks.