The Journey of Jaffna’s Mahogany Plantation: A Sustainable Model for the Future

We were all aware in most of our much-published Tree Planting campaigns on National Tree Planting Day, end up with only signboards remaining after a few months. But this project is exceptional

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How the Mahogany trees look today, after 12 years [ Photo Credit: Author]

Today we talk much about tree plantation and increasing forest cover in our Country. How many trees we planted in a year? How many trees which we planted with much effort perish in a few months? How many grow up to big trees? It’s something we should really look into.

We were all aware in most of our much-published Tree Planting campaigns on National Tree Planting Day, end up with only signboards remaining after a few months. What is important for the future is not only to plant trees but also to look after the saplings for a few years, especially during dry seasons, so that they grow strong and will able to stand alone to grow up to become big trees. Former Army Commander General Mahesh Senanayake’s effort in Wilpattu Area a few years back is of this type. Army will look after the trees until they are grown up. This will increase the forest cover of Wilpattu to a new level.

I was the Commander Northern Naval Area from 5th April 2011 to 4th October 2012. The Navy has to dominate the road from Kankasanturei (KKS) to Karinagar in our Main Supply Route (MSR). Very few civilians were living on either side of the road during that time. Further, we had another Naval Base SLNS AGBO along this road to secure the MSR. It was near Dambakolapatuna Viharaya, where Buddhists believe Therani Sangamitta landed with a sap line of secreted Bo tree.

I gave a new task to personnel at SLNS AGBO during the rainy season of 2011. That is to plant Mahogany saplings on either side of MSR. Saplings were planted approx 15- meters distance apart. We planted 500 saplings. First, the saplings were protected from harsh weather in the Northern area, both from Sun and strong sea breeze. Saplings were watered every third day during the dry season.

It was a fairly complicated task due to a shortage of water and a tractor browser. Every sailor in SLNS AGBO owned four saplings each. They were responsible to look after them. Sailors took this new and different task with much enthusiasm. Some asked why we plant trees in areas which not owned by us. Others were calculating the commercial value of these Mahogany trees when they were fully grown in twenty-five years. Our sailors, especially in the North serve for one to one and half years before they go on transfer. So, when sailors transferred to SLNS AGBO, the ownership of the saplings also transferred from outgoing sailors to incoming sailors. One thing we all knew was that in 25 years’ time when these trees are fully grown, non of us will be in the Navy. However, it was not a concern to us. We all want our project to be successful.

Our “Operation Mahogany “ was very successful. Trees started growing well and it was a very pleasant sight to see these trees grown in a symmetrical way on either side of the road from Keeramali junction (where the famous Naguleshwaran Hindu temple Keeramali is situated) to Ponnali junction (where the famous Varadaraja Perumal Hindu temple or Maha Vishnu temple situated. Location where Jaffna Mayor Alfred Durraiappa was killed ion 27th July 1975).

Today, after 12 years, these Trees are very big. fully grown 444 Mahogany trees on either side of the road, In another 13 years’ time they could be used by the Jaffna people. Our tree plantation project has given us 88.8 per cent success rate. Not bad at all!

“IF THERE IS WILL – THERE IS A WAY”

I wish more than 95 percent success rate for Former Army General Commander Mahesh Senanayake’s Project in Wilpattu Area.

Ravindra C Wijegunaratne

Retired Admiral Ravindra C Wijegunaratne, former Chief of Defence Staff of the Sri Lanka Navy, currently serves as the High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to Pakistan, following his tenure as Managing Director of Ceylon Petroleum Corporation and Chairman of Trincomalee Petroleum Terminals Ltd.

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