Sunday, January 20, 2008

coconuts


Those who read this blog and for the most part who write Sri Lanka related blogs, are either unaware or feel it unnecessary to comment on daily mundane issues that affect the lives of 95% of the people living in Sri Lanka. I guess that's why they are not of interest as they are mundane!

I would go as far as to say that 50% of the average household expenses after housing costs, (rent or mortgage) comprise costs of the food basket.The average cost of the food basket has gone up 50% in the past three months, and is affecting the lives of many and is the talking point in the average home, more than the war or bombs etc.Ironically the only item that I am currently having a short supply and I cannot increase prices are of King Coconuts, my largest single revenue earner, where prices have remained the same for the past three years. I would add that this is one of the most nutritious refreshments one can drink and is the best value for money today.

For those unaware, these are the current prices of some of the products I sell in my shop. Coconuts 40/- Bottle of Fresh Milk 50/- Loaf of Bread 45/- a Kilo of Wheat Flour 75/- a kilo or Rosa Samba rice 70/- a 400g pack of Milk Powder 195/- a kilo of dhal (grown in Australia) 120/- a kilo of Potato 80/-a kilo of Sugar 68/-. The prices of fruit and vegetables are usually seasonal and go up and down due to supply and demand and sometimes vary dramatically. The price of Tomato dropped from 140/- a kilo to 40/- in the last month alone. Similar drops were seen for lime which is now in season.

I am a producer of food items, I also buy these items from others as I do not produce enough to supply my customers, and I also transport these food items, and then sell direct to customers in Colombo and in my small Kade to neighbors around Galdola Farm in Kirimetta, Godagama. Needless to say I am also a consumer, but in the latter category, I only have to feed myself.

The title is called coconuts as I want to illustrate some of the issues regarding the spike in price of coconuts recently. It has doubled in about 2 months and appears still to be on the up with no respite till April when yields will increase again. I can't find enough to stock my shop as they are snapped as quickly as a coconut is husked and brought.

The main reason is that historically this is the time the trees produce the least amount of nuts. One cannot store coconuts for long in a cost effective way. I can vouch for this as the yield has more than halved and in that sense, my total income from coconuts has fallen despite the price rise.There is also a pest that has attacked trees in the South where people have had to destroy them.

Those who climb coconut trees now only pluck 4 or 5 per tree due to the time of year and they charge 50/- to climb a tree resulting in a 10/- per nut plucking charge in some cases, when it is for a few trees. There are fewer coconut tree climbers, and this is affecting the climbing cost for my King Coconuts which I sell only at 12/-(15/- for home delivery) and retail between 20/- and 25/- in roadside kades in Colombo.

I have therefore had to search high and low for coconuts to stock my shop as it is a basic item that people look for in a food shop and today, I was able to secure some nuts from my neighbours at 35/- hardly profitable bearing in mind the cost of husking and transporting in order to sell them. I have to search for more nuts in Polonnaruwa where I can get them at a lower cost, but bear in mind I have to cover my transport cost in the total supplies I bring from there.

Other long term factors have been that more trees are cut to make way for home sites, and another phenomenon that I was just made aware of was the large scale stealing of coconuts from larger estates where owners are absent and those in authority are complicit. Much of these coconuts find their way to large markets like Colombo where it is easy to dispose of a lorry load of stolen coconuts for about 500,000/- yes five lakhs. Estate owners have cut their fertilizer schedules due to low incomes and inability to combat theft. Most people steal by plucking and filling one lorry load to live on for a few years!!! In a smaller way a person steals a few coconuts from a tree on my and others' property to feed their families, and in other cases, some people steal 10 nuts from one tree and that is a days wages in Sri Lanka, and so do that for a living.

Another factor is the increased price of fertilizer, a 50kg bag of Coconut fertilizer is Rs 2550 almost double last years subsidised price. So people are fertilizing less, resulting in yield decreases.

The Government has tried to ban the export of coconuts to the middle east but that is a short term and self defeating action as long standing trading relationships with exporters are cut with a moments notice and is bad for business.

Households do and of necessity cut down on the use of coconuts for cooking and possibly dilute their curries with water and extend the use of the coconut. Some shops are selling half coconuts as people cannot afford whole ones.

There is no obvious solution to the problem that I can see, and in the long term a multi pronged approach is needed.

I am noting these from experience and if others have different experiences, please comment and add to the debate.

3 comments:

voipniche said...

I did not expect to read from you today but I saw your post on Achcharu and jumped here.
Simple reason I read your blog and some kids from outside Colombo, is to get the feel how the people are managing and you give a clearer picture than most club going folks in Colombo.
I am thankful that you decide to write and I happened to be by one day! I see your link to perceptions are up!
l8r

voipniche said...

I have to take my work back. Drac from Achcharu told me that your site has been indexed by Achcharu for months.
Sorry about giving you wrong info.

Anonymous said...

Ranjit, clearly you are deeply aware of the plight of the farmer and fortunately you can articulate it for the world to understand.

Regarding inflation, it is not only in Sri Lanka. In Cambodia, from where I am writing, costs are going through the roof for a few reasons - the rising price of oil and the depreciating dollar being two. For 2007 inflation was at 11% with some food items much higher. The price of land here has gone up another 100% in the past year. Granted, coconuts doubling in a few months sounds quite extreme.

That's all. I hope I will have a farm someday like yours so I can write interesting tales like yours. I hope to plant some crops which can be used for biodiesel as well as food crops.