Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Spice Garden Trails of Sri Lanka – Nutmeg the unheralded spice is actually made up of two spices Nutmeg and Mace

Spice Gardens are very much on the tourist trail, and are of different quality, one compared with the other, dotted around spice growing areas. Their whole objective is to entice the tourist to purchase product after seeing some spice plants and to a limited extent demonstrations on how they are processed.

The reality of the farmer faced with growing these spices commercially is a whole different subject, as issues facing them don’t get highlighted on a tour of a Spice Garden, that is usually located on the side of a main road, leading into Kandy or Matale from various parts of the Country, and are of limited size.

Surrounding the hills of Kandy are the main spice growing areas, but Pepper and Cinnamon grow more profusely in other areas too, not just in just the hills referred to here. Sri Lanka is also famous for Cloves and Cardamoms. Nutmeg on the other hand is a relatively unheralded spice where the tree in fact produces two spices, namely, Nutmeg (Sadikka) and Mace (Wasawasi), both of which are sold as spices, and are used for flavoring of sweet and savory foods.

The hills on either side of the Weuda Valley which extends from the Northwestern Province towards the Kandyan Hills, a means of getting into Kandy from areas such as Galagedera, where the new Central Expressway is to spill out before the approach into Kandy, is also an area where spices are grown extensively, but latterly with climate change, extensive droughts and invasion of the immigrant pests from other parts, has created a nightmare for spice growers. It is here that I highlight some of the challenges of growing nutmeg.

Nutmeg (Sadikka) is a spice grown in Sri Lanka that is used for flavoring drinks and food, and is poisonous in large quantities if ingested. In fact the nutmeg yields two spices, the kernel of the seed which is what we generally refer to as the nutmeg, and the crimson mace that surrounds the seed, that has to be carefully removed from the seed, and dried prior to sale to the processors.

In the past, in order to get the best quality, the fruit was allowed to ripen on the trees, split open and fall to the ground, to reveal the scarlet aril, better known as ‘mace’ which surrounds the nut, They are then collected and taken from the fields.  The scarlet mace is removed by hand carefully and dried for sale separately from the nut. The nut has an outer shell which is hard to crack revealing the kernel inside, which is the actual nutmeg itself which is powdered for sale. The growers generally sell the nut with the shell, for processors to do the rest, namely removing the kernel, as consistency and hygienic standards can only be achieved by those who have the necessary equipment, and can do it in the quantity that makes economic sense.

Latterly, due to the menace of pests, such as monkeys and giant squirrels to name the worst offenders, they pick on the fruit while on the tree and often damage them, as the ripening process is not uniform on a tree. Now it requires the laborious process of knowledgeable pickers, who have to pluck these fruit when they know it is sufficiently ripe and then take it away in bags for processing. This therefore is an added labor intensive process, an expense, which was not the case in the past.
Mace - Red balance is the nut

The pericarp of the fruit is edible and is made into jams, but in reality most of it is simply thrown away, unless a market is created by someone for fresh pericarp, in order to process it further, and make it economical to save.

Farmers dry the mace and sell it to the traders at the prevailing market price, and the seed is sold in similar fashion, where, whatever the market price of the day is the price at which it is sold. The farmer therefore is generally one who has only small quantities for sale, and so has no bargaining power of his own to determine or influence price, and so is at the mercy of the market makers, as far as price is concerned. I would challenge, considering the effort to grow, protect, and ensure the needed rainfall is obtained, producing nutmeg in Sri Lanka as a very profitable business and I believe there are fewer farmers going into cultivation of this crop. Wholesale theft of ripening fruit is also something to contend with, unless the property is sufficiently well guarded.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The Peacocks are rising in numbers and urgent action is required

“Diyawanna We have a problem!” – The peacocks are rising, and of course you have not noticed, as you don’t care, there are too many deals in the offing

One only needs to travel around the Country and observe. Peacocks are everywhere, they are in greater numbers than before, and they are crowding out other creatures, because their natural predators are dying due to traps, road kill and fewer areas for shelter.

Not only are peacocks in farmland, and rural areas of habitation, they are also in forests in greater numbers, perhaps crowding out other species. Recently I saw them compete with the Raptors for space on top of large trees, where they take shelter for the nights. The trees I saw peacocks did not have any raptors and vice versa, and I wondered what comes first. My hunch is when the peacock takes up residence on a tree and starts letting the world know of his presence, with its unmistakable call, (annoying, when you hear it all night, when preferring the other sounds of the night) NO raptor worth his dignity, or pride, wants to be near it, as it draws attention. Raptors prefer anonymity and camouflage, in order to pick and choose its morsels for the kill.

Of course those who have not lifted a Mammoty or driven a Tractor, are the first to come to their aid, not even aware of the real situation on the ground. I will now call for a biodiversity balance study to ascertain, region – wise, how certain species are more prevalent than others starting of course with those that affect agriculture most. You will say if we start with this what next! Cool it buddy!

There are endangered species. They need to be acknowledged, so we don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg. I call for temporary culls when things get out of hand, for a limited period. I don’t envisage any encroachment into protected areas to do this. That should remain free from human encroachment.

To begin with I propose picking some areas where the infestation is highest after a quick research into the numbers as statistical sampling techniques and even using drone technology enable more accurate and speedy studies these days, and determine that an area be permitted to kill peacocks.

Kill and you all shout, but don’t forget that EVERY village has people who poach for a living and if they are allowed to kill a 100 peacocks and sell their meat then you save 100 other animals they are killing anyway, from all the varieties of deer, to anything else they can lay their hands on.

In fact my proposal will help some endangered species get a chance for their numbers to grow, while over-populated species are culled.