Coconut nuts hanging on a coconut tree signifying the magic of the coconut industry of Sri Lanka.
The Magic of Coconut, and the Coconut Industry in Sri Lanka

Being an island and a country with averagely fine weather throughout the year, Sri Lanka is an ideal land with ideal soil for many tropical plantations! Coconut is one such plant for which Sri Lanka is famous, making the coconut industry in Sri Lanka world-famous. Being one of the three main export crops of Sri Lanka from the colonial era, the coconut plant has a strong bond with Sri Lanka’s culture. Let’s start reading a complete overview of the coconuts and the coconut industry in Sri Lanka, which is world-famous and demanded around the world for their goodness and value!

Is Coconut a Tree?

The answer is yes, indeed! It is a tree that belongs to the palm family (Arecaceae). The scientific name of coconut is Cocos nucifera. Coconut plants are generally tall trees. A regular coconut tree grows up to more than thirty feet. However, there can be different breeds and varieties that grow shorter than that but are still fruitful. A healthy and grown coconut tree produces around 100 coconuts annually.

Further, the fruit of coconut is round-shaped with a bluntly pointed edge. The outer layer of each fruit has a cover of a stiff fiber. It is the coconut husk. These fruits have only one seed in each. The seed in the coconut husk is a round shape with a hard shell. It contains flesh or kernel and sweet water. The fruits can be green or pale yellow which can become different according to the variety and the area where they grow. The coconuts grow in bunches at the top of the tree amidst the branches. It is unable to pluck coconuts without the help of a long hook to the length of the tree or traditionally by a person who can climb coconut trees. Generally, the lifespan of a healthy coconut tree is around seventy years.

Why is a Coconut Tree Called ‘the Tree of Life? or the Benefits of a Coconut Tree

Life is the most valued thing on earth. So as the coconut tree. There is a particular reason why coconut trees are precious. It is one of the few trees on the planet, which is helpful as a whole. It is just amazing how each and every part of the coconut tree has some use and value. In the Sri Lankan context, it is nicknamed ‘Kapruka’ which means the tree which gives anything and everything. Thus, having a coconut tree in a home garden is something to be proud of for Sri Lankans.

Below are the parts of a coconut tree which are useful.

  • Coconut flesh/kernel
  • Water in the coconut
  • Coconut shell
  • The outer cover of a coconut/ husk
  • Coconut flower
  • Coconut branches
  • The trunk of the coconut tree
  • Other parts

You will be amazed by the uses of this exotic tree after reading below a detailed explanation of how each part is valuable to humans.

Coconut Flesh/Kernel

Coconut flesh comes in coconut fruits, which is the main yield of the coconut tree. They are edible fruits that grow in bunches amidst the coconut branches. The kernel of the coconut is a white color, solid substance. It is so rich in fat. It has to be scraped off in order to process. After scraping you get coconut flakes. Thus, people make use of coconut flakes after scraping, chopping, or squeezing to make coconut milk or coconut oil. The said oil also replaces butter in several recipes. Coconut oil is a nutritious ingredient for tropical food and also a medicine for certain skin diseases such as rashes. It also helps to make the skin healthy and glowing. Thus, it is also an ingredient for beauty cultural products and treatments.

Coconut milk is a nutritious medium to cook day-to-day food in Sri Lanka and is an essential ingredient to prepare many delicious Sri Lankan cultural foods in special ceremonies. Coconut milk or cream as we call it is also exported canned as a liquid or packaged as a powder.

Further, desiccated coconut is an ingredient for many delicious recipes worldwide. They are dehydrated coconut flakes that are drier than fresh coconut flakes. There is a coconut scraper in each Sri Lankan household for coconut scraping. It is called ‘Hiramanaya.’ Although it is usually a primary manual machine, there are also electric coconut scrapers for commercial usage at present.

Water in the Coconut

It’s delicious, refreshing,  and healthy! Coconut water is a drink full of nutrients such as Protein, vitamin C, Potassium, Magnesium, Manganese, Sodium, and much more.  Presently, especially in Europe, there is a high demand for this tropical drink of coconut water due to its potent health benefits. In Sri Lanka, fresh coconut water is available as a street drink too. It is a variety of coconut which is called ‘King coconut/Thembili’. It is a wonderful experience to have a drink of King coconut using the nut itself, using a straw, under the beautiful sunshine of the island! However, people sell it as a packed instant drink at shops as well. Sri Lankans also export coconut water as a packaged beverage. If you visit Sri Lanka, never miss this summertime favorite!

Coconut Shell

Coconut shell is the inner cover of a coconut. It is free of kernels once we scrape off the flesh. Sri Lankans use coconut shells to light the stoves or process them as charcoal for other industrial work. One utensil that is common in any Sri Lankan kitchen from the olden days is a spoon made of coconut shell. Some people collect coconut shells and do arts and crafts in Sri Lanka, which are unbelievably amazing and creative! It is not a material that easily decays; thus, it also serves the purpose of a dish or a mug once scrubbed and polished.

The Outer Cover of a Coconut/ Husk

Meanwhile, coconut husks have a great place at present in the agriculture industry locally and internationally. They are full of natural fiber. It is an ideal plantation medium due to its high water retention and absorption ability. In the olden days, the farmers used to bury coconut husks in the farmyards as a water retention mechanism. They also prepare a hem of coconut husks around the plant bed for the same purpose. In addition, today the coconut husks are processed and prepared into grow bags, popular in indoor and outdoor plantations. The coir industry in Sri Lanka is a growing field that exports coconut coir products worldwide, especially in Europe, where there is an increasing demand for natural and eco-friendly methods. There are coir bricks, coco peat, and grow bags available at the international market to serve this demand.

Besides, people create strong ropes, using the said fiber of coconut husks and rugs too. There is a good market for accessories, ornaments, and other fashionable interior designing objects made of coconut fiber at present. They connect the thread collected through the husks into a bunch to prepare brooms in the past, which was very eco-friendly, unlike the plastic brooms today. You can also make an outdoor broom easily with a bunch of ekel or the hard stick in the middle of the coconut leaf. Furthermore, dry coconut husks are an essential fuel in traditional Sri Lankan domestic kitchens too.

Coconut Flower

The coconut flower is a beautiful light yellowish bunch. The coconuts grow from the flower. It is a symbol in Sri Lankan culture from ancient times, where the Sri Lankans use coconut flowers in their ceremonies as a decorative item. One such famous traditional decoration is ‘The PunKalasa.’ The coconut flowers are a symbol of prosperity. Thus, people use them in wedding ceremonies and cultural ceremonies for decoration where they work for the auspicious time. 

Coconut flowers are also a valuable medicine in Ayurvedic medicine in Sri Lanka. Thus, coconut blossoms are another valuable and beautiful part of the coconut palm.

Coconut Branches

Further, a coconut tree contains around fifteen to twenty branches surrounding the top of it. They are ideal to thatch roofs to cover houses and huts. A cabin or a place covered with a coconut branch roof is naturally rich with full-time ventilation. Those are called Cadjan roves. Although many homes had thatched roofs with coconut branches in historical Sri Lanka, nowadays, people do it only for decorative purposes. There are several restaurants and food outlets in Sri Lanka with thatched- roofs that are mind soothing and refreshing.

Furthermore, the hard stick in the middle of the coconut leaf is also beneficial. It is a great example to prove how useful every single part of this fantastic tropical plant-the coconut tree! A collection of these sticks forms into an ideal broom to sweep outdoors. Sweeping with a coconut stick broom draws beautiful designs on a sandy floor which has been a part of beautiful Sri Lankan village life. 

Apart from the matured coconut branch, people make use of the tender branch of coconut as well. Similar to the coconut blossom, the tender coconut branch is also used as a decorative item to decorate the entrances, especially during auspicious times.

The Trunk of the Coconut Tree

Another useful part of the coconut tree that we can never miss is its trunk. Being a palm tree, the coconut trunk is tall and a cylindrical shape one where there are no branches on it. The most valuable use of the coconut trunk is the solid and strong wood rich with fiber in its core. Thus it has an intrinsic commercial value among other timber. Coconut timber is a medium to fabricate furniture and other construction work, especially as a natural material to hold the roofs of buildings. There is a considerably low price for coconut wood in Sri Lanka even though it is commonly used.  

Other Parts

Not only main parts of the coconut tree are of high value, but also some minor parts. The coconut stems, branch stems, and outer covers of the coconut flower are inexpensive fuels for the local village kitchen.

What is the Sri Lankan Traditional and Cultural Food Made Using Coconuts?

Sri Lankan culinary has a strong bond with coconuts. The reason must be that Sri Lanka is one of these tropical countries with great production and supply of fresh and locally grown coconuts. Let it be the day-to-day cooking or preparing meals for special occasions such as New year ceremonies and wedding ceremonies, at least half of the food is with the magical ingredient of coconut.  That can be either coconut flakes, coconut cream/milk, coconut oil, or at times a combination of it all. Here are some of the cultural foods which Sri Lankans prepare using coconut.

  1. Coconut Sambol
  2. Coconut milk curry or any other curry
  3. Milk Rice
  4. Kokis
  5. Pol Rotti
  6. Green leaf dish
  7. Village Polos curry
  8. Other sweets using coconut flakes

Where is Coconut Originally From?

People Believe that coconuts were originally from the continent of South East Asia. Later, it spread towards the lands of Pacific Asia during the historical eras, when the Austronesian seafarers in the Indian Ocean started. Subsequently, the South Asian, Arabic, and European sailors have continued to bring down or exchange coconuts with the other countries along the coasts of the Indian and Atlantic oceans. However, America has had coconuts in the recent past during the colonial era at the Columbian exchange.

Thus, the coconuts were originally from countries such as Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Nevertheless, coconut cultivation must have first started in South Asian countries like India, Sri Lanka, and Maldivian Islands as a commercial crop.

Do Coconuts Grow in Sri Lanka?

As mentioned before, Sri Lanka is one of the five leading countries where coconuts cultivation first started. The plains in Sri Lanka have the best soil and the weather required for the growth of coconut. It is the salty and sandy soil that is the best medium for the coconut plantation. Sri Lanka is an island rich with such soil around the coasts of the island. If you travel down south of the island, you could have the beautiful view of the bluish beaches of Sri Lanka beautified with the coconut palms leaning towards the beach! Thus, coconut became one of the principal commercial crops in Sri Lanka after identifying its goodness and value.

There are three main varieties of coconut that grow here. The tall variety is the standard variety, dwarf variety, and the King coconut variety are the rest. Coconuts, in general, are called ‘Pol” in Sri Lanka, where King coconut is called “Thambili.’ All these varieties contribute to the success of the coconut industry of Sri Lanka.

 You will get a better idea of those varieties and the coconut plantations in Sri Lanka further in this article.

Coconut Cultivation of Sri Lanka

Coconut cultivation in Sri Lanka is one of the main crops that support the country’s economy in big time. The cultivation, processing, marketing, and exporting of this valuable crop have created many jobs in the field. Sri Lanka secures a fifth place among the world’s largest coconut producers. Furthermore, coconut cultivation in Sri Lanka covers more than 12% of the agriculture production on the island. There is an average coconut production of 3600 million nuts annually.

The Coconut Development Act, No 46 of 1971,  governs the coconut industry in Sri Lanka supported by many other government organizations. Let’s have a complete overview of further details concerning coconut cultivation in Sri Lanka right now.

Coconut Cultivation Areas in Sri Lanka

Although coconut is one of the main crops of Sri Lanka, there are certain areas of the country that are ideal for coconut plantation especially, as a commercial crop. Generally, the western and Southern lowlands have coconut estates where they grow healthy coconuts. However, there is a particular area in this country that contains the best of the best soil for coconut plantations. That specific area is known as the ‘coconut triangle in Sri Lanka. 

What is the Coconut Triangle in Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka is one of the leading countries to grow coconut; a particular area is famous for coconut cultivation. The said area covers three districts on the island, which is around sixty-six percent of the total acreage of Sri Lanka. Besides, this particular area is internationally popular as the largest coconut production area in South Asia. The districts include Colombo, Kurunegala, and Puttalam. The reason for the name ‘coconut triangle’ is the geographical position of these three districts on the Sri Lankan map. The specialty of this area is the climate which belongs to the dry and intermediate climatic zones that ideally fit the coconut plantation. Anyone who passes these areas can have a beautiful, greenish and unique view of vast and well-maintained coconut estates on the roadsides.

The coconut estates in this area are well looked after with manure and water with other minerals at the correct time to the right amount. Although the rainfall in the coconut triangle is not relatively frequent, irrigation systems provide the necessary water supply. The result is a very well grown and nutritious harvest of coconuts once each three months during the year. The total annual coconut production in the coconut triangle is approximately three thousand million nuts, among which Sri Lanka exports 200 million.

Second Coconut Triangle Introduced in North

As a part of Sri Lanka’s plan to develop the coconut industry to meet the growing demand for coconuts globally, the authorities decided to set up a second triangle of coconuts. The plantation industries ministry of the country has already identified suitable areas for this purpose. The Northern and the Eastern regions are ideal for this project. It was an initiative to rehabilitate and reinvest in these areas after a civil war that lasted for more than 30 years. Thus, around three hundred thousand coconut palms were distributed among the civilians in the area shortly, along with necessary facilities for plantation and care. The Ministry believes that Sri Lanka can double its annual coconut production in ten years due to this project.

Is King Coconut Native to Sri Lanka?

King coconut is an orangish coconut species that is native to Sri Lanka. It is ‘Thembili’ in the Sri Lankan context. King Coconut is very popular in Sri Lanka among locals and tourists who visit this beautiful country.

Further, it is a palm that is shorter than the regular coconut tree. Meanwhile, there are a few varieties of king coconut, such as Ran Thambili (smaller nuts that grow in a large number per bunch) and Gon Thambili/ Red dwarf (the normal reddish or orangish common King coconut). The water in the king coconut is famous as a rich and soothing drink with a lesser sugar level than normal coconut water. Furthermore, the kernel of this type of coconut is also a nutritious substance to eat.

Meanwhile, king coconut is great natural medicine in the Sinhala Ayurvedic medicine. Although Sri Lanka exports the king coconuts on a medium scale, it is not yet a commercial crop. The king coconut sellers are ubiquitous in Sri Lanka, especially in towns and other roadsides of tourist hotspots. It is a drink that can be highly recommended as natural and hygienic as you can straight away consume the drink out of the nut.

Hybrid Coconut Plantation in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is one of the primary cultivators of coconut, thus keeps on experimenting with new varieties of coconuts for a healthy and increased harvest. Hybrid coconut is one such new variety, and let us seek more information on it under different facets.

What is Hybrid Coconut?

Hybrid coconut is the inter-varietal cross between two different varieties of coconut with the intention of a high yield. Usually, the two varieties of coconuts selected for this purpose are the dwarf variety and the tall variety.

The advantage of the hybrid method is the combination of the goodness of both varieties. It ultimately results in a better production of coconut. The hybrid coconut trees begin to bear fruits after three to four years of planting. Besides, those trees resist environmental stress, such as different diseases and droughts that occur during the year.   Furthermore, the researchers have revealed that those hybrid plants’ fruits are the best for copra production. People make coconut oil through copra production, and the oil produced through hybrid coconuts is rich in quality. 

The first Sri Lankan hybrid coconut cultivar is CRIC65. The maternal and paternal plants of it are the Sri Lankan dwarf variety and the Sri Lankan tall variety. The dwarf variety is considered the female plant. At the Ambakelle coconut research center, they mass-produce the seed-nuts of this coconut hybrid using the natural pollination method. However, the demand for this hybrid variety is growing higher and higher day by day, in order to receive an increased harvest.

Coconut Development Authority in Sri Lanka

The Coconut Development Authority of Sri Lanka is the principal government organization of Sri Lanka when it comes to coconut. It is famous as the CDA. This organization is responsible for developing the coconut industry on the island and functions under the Ministry of Plantation Industries. Further, it coordinates with overseas buyers to facilitate exporters of coconut products from the country. The website related to the Coconut development authority has plenty of information relevant to coconut production in Sri Lanka.

Besides, other institutes such as the coconut research institute and the coconut cultivation board overlook the coconut cultivators and their issues relating to them.

Does Sri Lanka Export Coconut?

Of course, yes! Sri Lanka is one of the leading countries which export coconut products worldwide. Many countries worldwide have identified the value and goodness of coconut products in Sri Lanka. That is in terms of health and environment. The contribution of coconut exports to the total merchandise exports is around 6.5 percent as of 2021. The major markets of Sri Lankan coconut products are the United States, Germany, Netherlands, China, United Kingdom, Kanada, Japan, Australia, India, and Mexico. Among them, the United States is the leading customer of Lankan coconut products.

Further, Sri Lanka exports several products of coconut, such as the products relating to coconut kernels such as oil, cream, and desiccated coconut, coconut fiber such as strings, grow bags, and ropes; and coconut shell products such as charcoal. Among them, the largest market is kernel products which are 51.6% whereas, it is 31% for fiber products and 17.4% for shell products.

Problems of Coconut Industry in Sri Lanka

Although the coconut industry is progressing yearly, As for anything or any industry, it also has challenges that stand in its way.

Here is a highlight of a few of the main challenges that affect the coconut industry on the island.

Let us have a further explanation of these issues that disturb the cultivation.

  1. The climatic challenges

2. Pest damages

3. Access to technology

The Climatic Challenges

The optimum climatic condition for healthy growth and yield of coconut production is an annual rainfall between 1300 and 2300 mm and a yearly temperature of 27 °C apart from adequate sunlight. Although the coconut growing areas generally have sufficient precipitation and temperature throughout the year, there are specific years where the conditions change drastically. The best example was, there has been a significant difference in the annual nut yield of coconuts between 2016 and 2017 due to a severe drought that occurred islandwide. The irrigation systems which provide water to the plantations also got dried off during this particular period leaving the coconut estates of the area in disaster.

Such instances lead the way for the annual nut yield to be very low. Thus, it becomes a challenge for the exporting of coconut products as well.  However, experimenting on different varieties of coconut that are tolerable to climatic stresses at such a juncture is very important.

The Pest Damages

Pest damage is another challenge that coconut planters face in Sri Lanka. The predicted harvest in the expected quality through the coconut industry in Sri Lanka cannot be received due to this reason.

Here are some of those pests that damage the coconut palms and discourage the farmers considerably.

  1. Rhinoceros beetle

2. Termite

3. Nematode

4. Red palm weevil

5. Blackhead caterpillar

6. Coconut eriophyid mite

The long-time infections of those pests without any treatment could lead to the death of coconut palms. However, relevant authorities such as the coconut research institute and the boards propose necessary remedies to manage mite or pest threats. The remedies belong to two main categories as mild chemical treatments and predaceous mite treatments. The mild chemicals that they propose for this purpose are sprayed or tied up into the stems of the coconut flowers in the tender age of the blossom. Further, the predaceous mite treatment is identified as the best treatment so far to prevent mites in the coconut industry of Sri Lanka. It is nature friendly and healthy as well.

The Access to Technology

The estate sector or the large–scale coconut farmers receive the necessary technology for the coconut plantation in Sri Lanka, which is relieving. However, there is a question if the part-timers or small-holders get it adequately. Although the contribution of coconut production by the small-holders sector is around 70%, it is a challenge that the said sector does not have sufficient access to the technology related to coconut planting. The problem can be lying in distributing the technology or the inability to spend adequate time on those important aspects.

However, the relevant authorities are now addressing all these challenges to gain the expected benefits through the Sri Lankan coconut industry.

Future of Coconut Industry in Sri Lanka

It is not a secret that the future of the coconut industry has a strong bond with the future of the plantation industry in Sri Lanka. The demand for coconuts and coconut-based products is in the process of increasing day by day. Many and more lucrative products and businesses are in the process of being introduced in line with coconuts. Besides, the Ministry of Plantation Industries and Export Agriculture expects to double the coconut output in ten years, with the new coconut triangle coming in. Thus, a lucrative future for the coconut industry is surely predictable in the coming years.

The Bottom Line

After all, the success of the coconut industry in Sri Lanka highly depends on the decisions taken by the relevant authorities on the island. However, we can believe that the authorities are doing their best to prosper this industry. Accordingly, Sri Lanka is looking forward to rejoicing in the positive future of the coconut industry and becoming the next hotspot of coconut production in Southeast Asia very soon. Let’s hope for the best!