Even as the Coconut Development Board celebrated ‘Coconut Day’ on Monday, many farmers in the country were fighting a battle against an unknown enemy in the form of ‘root wilt’ disease that had been draining their resources for years together. World over, the menace has evaded a solution, causing hardship to coconut farmers as well as planners.

The root wilt disease is not caused by fungus or bacteria, a fact that has made it difficult for researchers to arrive at a mechanism to fight it. The etiology of root wilt was established as ‘phytoplasma’ and its molecular detection was achieved by scientists of Central Plantation Crops Research Institute, said V. Krishna Kumar, head of the regional centre of CPCRI, Kayamkulam, where research on the disease had been taken up in the past.

“Insecticides or fungicides are not effective on root wilt-affected palms. No curative or control measures have yet been found out and genomic studies on the most vulnerable stage of the disease are being carried out,” he said.

One of the strategies in countering the menace is the development of disease-resistant varieties and the scientists at CPCRI have been able to develop a few of them. Two disease-resistant dwarf varieties, namely ‘Kalpasree’ and ‘Kalpavriksha’, have been developed. A new hybrid variety has also been found disease-free.

The CPCRI has been supplying about 10,000 saplings of the disease-resistant variety every year to farmers since 2008.

Another strategy in countering the disease is enrichment of soil. Strengthening the soil fertility through micro-organisms from decayed leaves has been found successful. The scientists are advocating cultivation of peas in coconut farms for letting the plant’s leaves fall into the soil. Symptoms such as ‘yellowing’ and ‘ribbing of leaves’ have been found less in coconut palms growing in such soil.

Significantly, the Coconut Development Board had selected Coimbatore as the venue of Coconut Day celebrations this year. Coimbatore is the biggest coconut producing district in the country.

Productivity in Coimbatore is almost double that of the national average.

Every year September 2 is celebrated as World Coconut Day, to coincide with the establishment of Asian and Pacific Coconut Community (APCC), an intergovernmental organisation to promote cooperation in the sector.

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