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As the debate over the state tree of Goa continues, focus seems to be shifting from the real problem. Wikimedia
  • Each Indian State and Union Territory has its own state seals and symbols that include state trees, animals, birds, etc
  • Goa CM Manohar Parrikar has announced that the Coconut palm will be conferred status of state tree of Goa again
  • Coconut planters continue to suffer from scanty productions as states turn a blind eye

GOA, AUGUST 1, 2017 : Politicians in Goa continue to debate over the status of the tourist state’s beloved Goan coconut trees. Is it a tree after all?

Following an issue that has now stretched for over a year, Goan agriculture minister and president of Goa Forward Party (GFP) Vijay Sardesai said the Act under which the coconut palm was de-classified as a ‘tree’ would be re-amended.

However, caught between this symbolic fiasco, what is believed to be a larger economic problem is being ignored.

Background

  • January 2016: Coconut loses the status of a tree under the then Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) led coalition government
  • August 2016: Government issues notification to farmers to get a no-objection certificate (NOC) before cutting coconut palms
  • June 2017: GFP and BJP release a common minimum program promising to re-designate the coconut palm as a state tree, among other things

The debate began when former forest minister Rajendra Arlekar pointed out that Goa already has a state tree, Terminalia elliptica.

For more than a quarter century now, the matti (Terminalia elliptica), also known as the crocodile bark tree, has enjoyed the status of state tree of Goa. In order to strip it of the status, the government will have to “de-notify the matti tree and then declare the coconut tree as the state tree”, he said.

However, while Arlekar believes that because the coconut palm tree is naturally associated with Goa and is extensively used by the tourism department to promote Goa as a destination, it would be unnecessary to declare it as a state tree, the GFP ministers believe otherwise.

“The promise to make the coconut tree a state tree is part of the common minimum program and it will be implemented”, said Vijai Sardesai, president of the GFP. He is supported by Miguel Braganza, Secretary of the Botanical Society of Goa and former agriculture officer who agrees that most people and foresters don’t know about the matti tree while the coconut is easily recognized and therefore, symbolic.

While this symbolic problem of giving the coconut palm the status of state tree has captured the attention of the state legislature, a larger economic problem is being ignored.

Coconut production in Goa has remained stagnant in the last fifteen years. Between 2000 and 2015, the quantity of total nuts produced fluctuated within the range of 125 to 129 million nuts per year which did not grow even after the coconut tree was brought under the Forest Act in 2008.

A direct impact of the staggering production is seen on the coconut planters, who do not get enough for their produce. The yield is as low as 27 to 30 nuts per year, in comparison to an expected quantity of 137 nuts per year. This forces planter to sell their property to industrialists and builders.

According to government statistics, at least 50 lakh tourists visit the state every year. This generates a huge demand for coconut, easily fetching a price of up to Rs 35 per piece. Officials believe if the coconut planters get a subsidy, fertilizers, or any other help from the government, they will be able to produce better and earn at least four times more.

ALSO READ: Kerala accounts for 37 percent of total area under Coconut Farming in India, Still Chhattisgarh leads the chart

The coconut palm tree was devoid of any status till 2007 when Goa Bachao Abhiyan started after coconuts trees were felled in Nauxim village. It was only in 2008 that the coconut was brought under the Forest Act to prevent cutting it. However, the Act failed to prevent the feeling of coconuts which is why GFP has started the movement to protect and conserve the coconut tree.


Coconut planters are increasingly selling lands to industrialists and builders. Pixabay

While this politicization of coconut preservation has taken a front seat in state politics and the country wonders if coconut is a tree, coconut production and planters are not going to benefit from this development.

Caught in the current turmoil about the state tree, no one is addressing the economic aspect of the situation.

The need of the hour is to go beyond the symbolic gestures. Braganza believes that if benefits provided to mango growers like the subsidy of Rs. 2 lakh per hectare were extended to coconut planters, the situation might improve.

– prepared by Soha Kala of NewsGram. Twitter @SohaKala


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