Coconuts are Dying

Coconuts Long Bay Portland Jamaica


Coconut – botanical name: Cocos nucifera

Coconuts are dying.  This is a sad story.

Once upon a time in Jamaica coconuts thrived and next to water were the staple of life. The people of Long Bay Portland Jamaica thrived on the industry they provided and the natural medicine that kept them very healthy. They used to say the doctors in Portland all went out of business because no one got sick, they just got old and died. All the animals loved coconut too. They covered the land right down to the beach front and the poor people lived a good life of with coconut and fresh water in abundance. The coconut palm produces food, drink, fuel and shelter in the form of ninety different products used in domestic economies of many tropical nations.

In the early nineteen sixties mysterious yellow planes began to fly over Portland.  Rumours spread and it was believed that they were spraying the bananas. No-one knew what they were spraying them for. The problem was, the coconuts started to die. Lush green and thriving one day, after the planes few over they began to yellow almost instantly and slowly began to die off. This assault went on for several years. No-one knew where the planes came from or what they were actually doing. Coconuts have been dying of this disease ever since in Central America and as far away as Ghana.

By 1977, earnings from copra production dropped by $8.37 million. Sixty percent of this loss was attributed to lethal yellowing disease. The susceptible varieties are the Jamaica Tall Coconuts. It causes yellowing of fronds, premature fruit drop and death of the tree in three to eighteen months. If you look at the situation today, it is dismal. Coconuts are still around but only up in the hills with a few lone rangers scattered here and there. People live a lot harder and the coconut industry has virtually dried up. People rely a lot more on imported food from United States and places like Brazil. The long sandy beach is scattered with plastic items washed up with the waves. There are no shells.

The University of Florida was studying this problem. It is a bacterium and gets carried from tree to tree by various insect vectors. From 1972 to 1979 coconuts were dying at a rate of one thousand a day. It has just got worse and worse.

Meanwhile in 1961 the United States Government were reorganizing the structure of their foreign assistance programs and created a new agency, the United States Agency for International Development or USAID to administer non-military economic assistance to poorer economies the world over. It is interesting to see what this agency is doing today in twentieth century.

In Johannesburg in 2004 more than sixty groups representing farmer, consumer, environmental and development organisations from fifteen African countries, sent an open letter of protest to the World Food Programme (WFP). These groups are protesting against the pressure exerted by the WFP and USAID on Sudan and Angola over their respective decisions to impose restrictions on GM food aid. The groups are demanding that the WFP and USAID immediately desist from misleading the governments of Angola and Sudan with a scenario of NO CHOICE, and forcing them to accept GM food aid. GM has been banned in Europe.

USAID is currently involved in a project in Africa developing a network of certified seed growers for a new strain of rice called Nerica. Nerica also provides farmers an entry point for accessing credit so that they can increase their productivity. Last season USAID introduced Nerica varieties and seeds to almost 4,000 producers and trained them on best cultivation practices. Two hundred demonstration sites were set up to ensure the production of certified seeds for future seasons. Read more about the down side of Nerica here. It would seem logical that aid is better if it makes people self-reliant not dependent. Debt and buying seed aren’t exactly going to do that.

So what has all this to do with the Coconut? The poor old coconut. People didn’t need aid when they had the coconut. They were doing just fine. No drugs for the sickness, no new agricultural practices, no transfat genetically modified imports and food aid. No coconut-breeding program to find resistant strains, no antibiotics to inject the trees with. I will always wonder what those planes were spraying. Independent healthy communities dont make for good markets.

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