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Sri Lanka bans felling coconut trees to battle prices

December 20, 2010 (AFP) - Sri Lanka's government on Monday banned the felling of coconut trees as the island battled a severe shortage of nuts -- a dietary staple -- and ordered imports for the first time. Coconut development minister Jagath Pushpakumara said the government had outlawed the cutting down of coconut trees in a bid to maintain local production that has been falling steadily in recent years.

"With immediate effect, we have banned the felling of coconut trees," the minister said.

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The coconut is so important to national cuisine that shortages in the past have had serious political implications and have even been blamed for the downfall of governments.

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Last week, the government set a ceiling retail price of 30 rupees (27 US cents) per coconut in a network of state-owned stores, but stocks quickly sold out and then reappeared at more than double the price on the black market.

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The trade ministry has already placed orders to import coconuts from India.

Coconuts have traditionally been a key Sri Lankan export, after tea and rubber, but the conversion of plantations for housing development and increased consumption has led to severe shortages.

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