The coconut is essentially a cash crop
though in certain countries such as India, Ceylon, etc., it is also
a food crop in the sense that coconut kernel and oil invariably find
a place in the dietary of the inhabitants.
The main consideration in plantation
management should, therefore, be to maximise the net income from it
and this can be achieved only by increasing production, reducing costs,
creating additional sources of income, proper disposal of major and
minor products, etc.
Ikisan - Management practices in coconut plantations
The poor productivity of most of the coconut
plantations is undoubtedly due to faulty, improper or inadequate soil
A fuller appreciation of this fact and
a systematic adoption of improved practices will help to step up production.
The important soil management practices
that are to be given due consideration in relation to the coconut are
: tillage, drainage, mulching, erosion control, cover cropping, manuring,
replenishing organic matter, husk-burying, use of soil amendments and
The need for and the importance of each
of these practices will differ with the soil type, situation, condition,
For example, in a heavy soil, the primary
object will be to make it more porous, whereas in a lighter soil, the
main concern will be to improve its water and nutrient retaining capacity.
Again, in a sloping land, more than anything
else, the essential need is to conserve the soil.
Some soil management practices that are
adopted in coconut are as follows.
In coconut gardens, inter-cultivation
or cultivating the interspaces is the main tillage operation and consists
of ploughing, harrowing and digging.
The objects of tillage in a coconut garden may be summed up as follows:
To make the soil receptive to the first rains after
a rainless period, and to retain more moisture.
To produce favorable tilth or soil structure for
the development of roots, thereby increasing the available feeding area
for the palm.
To improve the aeration of the soil resulting in
increased bacterial and chemical activity which in turn increases the
available plant food in the soil.
To kill weeds and thereby conserve both plant food
and water for the palm.
To incorporate organic matter into the soil.
Under the soil and climatic conditions
obtaining on the West Coast of India, regular cultivation is found to
help in conserving soil moisture, through the combined effects of weed
removal, better percolation of water to sub-soil layers and reduced
loss of moisture by evaporation from soil surface.
Cultivation is an important item of expenditure
in the maintenance of a coconut garden and it is therefore necessary
to limit it to the irreducible minimum.
To get the maximum benefit from cultivation,
a number of factors have to be taken into consideration, such as form,
frequency, time and depth of intercultivation, etc.
In the coconut tracts of India, different
cultivation practices such as ploughing, digging with spade, opening
basins and covering them, forming bunds and subsequent levelling etc.,
are being followed by progressive growers.
The cost involved varies with the different
operations and a correct evaluation of them under similar conditions
is necessary before a particular practice is advocated.
Ploughing is the cheapest of the above,
yet a small grower may prefer to dig up his garden with spade.
Where the soil is light, cultivation can
be done with hoes or harrows with ease and rapidity at less cost.
Cultivation is to be practiced at the
proper time, taking into consideration the incidence and distribution
of rainfall, soil type and slope of the land.
The soil should be ploughed only when
it contains proper amount of moisture lest it should spoil the structure
of the soil and create hard pans.
In sloping lands, ploughing may be done
along the contour after the heavy monsoon rains are over, in order to
avoid the risk of soil erosion.
The depth of inter-cultivation, has to
be determined with reference to the depth of soil, the height of water
table, the condition and distribution of the root system, etc.
Shallow cultivation should be preferred
in order to avoid damage to the root system.
This is particularly important when the
area of root spread is restricted or the palms are weak, because then
rejuvenation of roots does not take place satisfactorily.
If the soil is deep and the palms healthy,
cultivation has the effect of forcing the roots to go to lower layers
where they do not suffer much during drought periods.
The garden should be cultivated when
the soil has become hard and compact or when it is foul with weeds.
Too frequent cultivation can prove harmful
under tropical conditions, as it may accelerate the depletion of soil
The weeds may be incorporated into the
soil by ploughing or by burying them in trenches where they will rot
in course of time and augment the organic matter content of the soil.
As the primary object of cultivation
is to reduce weed growth, it should be done before the weeds flower
and set seeds.
Mulching is the practice of covering the
surface of the soil with a layer of vegetable waste material, with a
view to keeping the surface layers at a more even temperature, more
premeable to water and for reducing weed growth.
Though considerable literature has accumulated
on the effects of mulching on other horticultural crops, comparatively
little is found reported in respect of the coconut.
The materials that can be used for mulching
are husks, leaves and fibre dust.
These materials though available in large
quantities in Ceylon and other countries, are difficult to obtain in
India for mulching purposes.
Mulching with husks upto a distance of
2 m from the base of the bearing tree is being done in Ceylon and has
been reported to help in conserving moisture and preventing weed growth.
In India, mulching with dry coconut leaves
during summer did not have any marked beneficial effects on the palms
growing in sandy soil.
Mulching should be done at the end of
the rainy period.
The preliminary observations on the use
of coir dust as mulch in Ceylon appeared to show that it can conserve
soil moisture but has no effect on immature nut-fall.
The growing of cover crops in coconut
plantations is now becoming more and more popular in coconut growing
countries. Cover crops are those crops, which are able to make vigorous
growth and cover the ground densely in a short period of time.
As distinct from a catch crop, a cover
crop is chosen more with regard to the interest of the main crop than
of the cover crop itself.
The following are the benefits expected by growing the cover crops.
Prevention of soil erosion.
Smothering of weeds thus reducing weeding costs.
Addition of organic matter to the soil and thus
maintaining the structure of the topsoil.
Improving aeration of the soil.
Protecting the soil and roots of crops from excessive
heat of the sun.
Conservation of fertility by using available plant
food which might otherwise be leached away.
Fixing of atmospheric nitrogen from the air in
the case of leguminous plants.
Taking away moisture and nutrient supply from the
soil, thus reducing the amounts available to the trees.
This will check fresh wood growth and produce conditions
favourable for proper ripening and better colour of the fruits.
Soil erosion is a really serious problem
in gardens raised on hill slopes, particularly in areas where heavy
rains are received.
The loss of fertile top soil exposes
the roots of the palm and creates plant food deficiencies with the result
that the palms look diseased and become unproductive.
The importance of taking adequate measures
for the control of soil erosion cannot, therefore, be over emphasized.
A number of methods such as terracing,
contour bunding, cover cropping, building crescent bunds, etc. suited
to different situations.
In coconut gardens where the palms are
planted 7.5 m to 9 m apart the interspaces might appear to offer opportunities
for raising other crops, annuals or perennials, as a source of additional
income to the grower.
In fact, a variety of crops depending
upon the soil and climatic conditions and local demand are being grown
in the gardens of small growers.
In the early stages of the plantation,
when the seedlings are still young and the ground is unshaded, there
is no harm in raising such crops, provided care is taken to see that
the subsidiary crops are well manured and that they are not grown to
the very base of the palms.
It is better to leave uncropped about
2 m all round the base of the palms and keep the area free of weeds
by repeated cultivation.
Manures for the young palms can be applied
in this area and incorporated.
The crops commonly cultivated in young plantations in India
Tapioca (Manihot utilissima), sweet potato,
banana, yams (Amorphophallus companulatus), colocasia (Colocasia antiquorum),
turmeric (Curcuma longa), ginger (Zingiber officinale), paddy (Oryza
sativa), ragi (Eleusine coracana), jowar (Sorghum durra), sugarcane
(Saccharum officinarum) and crops like horse gram (Dolichos biflorus),
cowpea (Vigna catjang), green gram (Vigna mungo), pine-apple (Ananas
sativus) and different kinds of vegetables.
The subsidiary crops can and are being
raised in the adult plantations also, but, because of the shade of the
canopy of the overhanging leaves, the range of crops that can be grown
is limited and the yield that can be obtained will also be much less
than in the open have shown, that, the subsidiary crops with proper
attention to manuring can be grown without in any way affecting the
yield of the coconut palms.
In fact, subsidiary crops raised with
adequate manuring and irrigation have been found to considerably benefit
the coconut palms.
The results can certainly be adverse
if crops which are heavy potash feeders such as tapioca are grown without
manuring continuously for long periods.
In Ceylon, Napier grass (Pennisetum purpureum)
grown without manuring was found to depress the yields of the coconut.
In Brazil, Manihot (cassava) is recommended
to be grown in coconut plantations because of the reported favourable
effects on soil permeability and moisture conservation.
The practice of growing trees of a perennial
nature along with the coconut is also widely prevalent in the coconut
areas particularly in the holdings of small growers.
Mango (Mangifera indica), jack (Artocarpus
integrifolia), Arecanut (Areca catechu), bead fruit (Artocarpus incisa)
and other trees which satisfy some of the needs of the growers are found
grown in the coconut gardens on the West Coast of India.
Rubber and coffee (Coffea sp.) are also
sometimes found grown.
In Malaya, coffee, mangosteen (Garcinia
and Seychelles, clove (Eugenia caryophyllata) is being raised.
In some coconut growing countries cocoa
(Theobroma cacao) is also being interplanted with coconut.
Intercropping of perennial plants in gardens
where palms are planted adopting the usual spacing is not be encouraged
as such cropping will result in intense competition and adversely affect
the growth and performance of both the crops.
Such intercropping will further make it
rather difficult to give proper attention to the different kinds of
trees according to their special and individual requirements.
If, however, it is desired to raise other
trees also, to diversity the sources of income of the grower, two ways
One is to plant the trees in alternate
rows giving sufficiently wide spacing to reduce mutual interference
of one over the other and the second is to assign different portions
of the available area among the different crops.