Ask a Producer Anything! Your Q&A with Ma's Happy Life Kitchen

To celebrate Fairtrade Fortnight, we gave you the exciting opportunity to put your questions to one of our lovely coconut growers at Ma’s Happy Life Kitchen. Here, we meet Sriyani of Ma’s Happy Life Kitchen, who was delighted to answer some of your burning questions…

My name is Sriyani and I live in Hakmana, in the south of Sri Lanka. I have 3 sons all of them are married, I live with my youngest son who works off-farm. The eldest 2 sons are living separately in their homes. My husband is the one who joined the farmer association and started suppling MA’s. It’s been 10 years since he passed away, but I continued to work in this program without quitting. I take care of the coconut farm all by myself.

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"I'd love to know what a 'day in life’ is."

I spend most of my day working on my land. The first thing I do when I wake up every day is to go around my farm collecting the fallen coconuts and bring them home. After that, I will get on with my daily household chores.

"What is the step-by-step process of harvesting the coconuts?"

First, we plant the coconut plants. It takes about 7 or 8 years for the first coconut flower to grow but it doesn't produce fruits. The second flower will start producing fruits. After that, the coconut harvest keeps on increasing for 10 to 12 years. We get about 5 to 6 coconuts from one tree. After 12 years we get about 12 fully grown coconuts from a tree.

When we collect the coconuts they are a greenish colour on the outside. We leave them to dry. Once they are dried, we take the outer ‘husk’ off. It is at this stage we send the coconuts to MA’s.

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"Do you feel affected by climate change? If so, what sorts of effects are you experiencing, and do you have any methods in place to combat these effects?"

Yes, there is an impact on our farming due to adverse climatic changes. When the sunlight is extreme in droughts, the branches of coconut trees wither away. A proper water collection and retention project will be very valuable in situations like these.

To overcome the above issues now, we use pits with coconut husks to collect rainwater and cut drains to retain rainwater to the trees use when necessary. This helps to provide adequate water for the trees to revive again.

"What do you think you’d be doing if you didn’t work with MA’s?"

From the day I joined hands with MA’s, I have been using the knowledge I gained towards the development of my land. In the past, I didn’t have much thought or a feeling towards my land. I did plant trees and harvested the crops, but I didn’t have a good income like now. Today, looking at my land makes me proud and happy as I have developed it to give me a proper method of income. This is all thanks to joining the MA’s family.

A coconut farmer at Ma's Happy Life's quote about benefits of fair trade

"I wonder do you have a favourite coconut milk recipe?"

My favourite coconut milk recipe is “Dodol*”.

*Dodol is a traditional Sri Lankan sweet. Dodol has a texture that is a bit like a combination between fudge and jelly.

To prepare Dodol, first, we need 12 coconuts, 1kg of rice, 4kg of sugar and some ginger, cardamom, cumin, and cashews.

  1. First, we have to wash rice and grind the soaked rice to make rice flour/paste.
  2. Next, we have to scrape coconuts and extract the coconut milk
  3. Then, we have to heat the thick coconut milk and bring it to a boil. Meanwhile, we must mix sugar and rice flour and then add the mixture to boiling coconut milk.
  4. We have to keep mixing it. It might take about 2 to 3 hours till it the mixture becomes consistent, and the colour becomes dark. This needs continuous mixing.
  5. As the last step, just before we take the mixture out of the heat, we add ginger, cardamom, cumin.
  6. We spread the cashews on the bottom of a tray and pour in the mixture to set before cutting it into pieces.

"Does the Fairtrade farmer association benefit your family and the wider community?"

Yes, it is beneficial. Everyone relates to Fairtrade now. After joining we have been getting benefits (premium) and the knowledge gained is very useful. Therefore, every farmer’s land is well developed now.

“Looking at my land makes me proud and happy as I have developed it to give me a proper method of income. This is all thanks to joining the MA’s family.” Sriyani 

"What does it mean to you to work for a fair-trade co-operative, opposed to a non-fair-trade co-operative?"

I also work as a part of another farmer association which isn’t Fairtrade, but I haven’t got any help so far from those farmer associations. They are telling us to manage everything by ourselves. Some members do everything by themselves, but they are not getting any benefit. But they continue to be a part of it thinking that they will get some benefit in the future from the government.

"Could you tell me about the environmentally friendly practices throughout the coconut harvesting process?"

Growing coconuts is environmentally friendly. We harvest coconuts every 2 months throughout the year we get a coconut harvest. The tree is not damaged during harvesting.

The coconut branches that fall are dried and used as firewood in cooking. We use coconut milk in preparing meals, we apply coconut oil extracted from coconuts to our hair. When the tree is old and not producing any more coconuts, we use the coconut stem for building houses. The entire coconut is used without wasting anything.

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"I would be interested to know how safety is maintained when harvesting coconuts."

When we pluck coconuts, we always make sure to wear protective headwear and we must always be careful to be alert and to stay away from the tree that is being plucked.

"Is there anything else you’d like us to know so that we can share with the customers who buy your coconut milk?"

Our coconuts are Fairtrade and organic and are of really good quality. This makes the best quality coconut milk. You could always try something new using the coconut milk, maybe my ‘Dodol’ recipe.

"What other crops are grown on your land?"

Cinnamon, pepper, ginger, turmeric, clove, goraka (garcinia), bananas and papayas.


"How do you feel working alone vs working as a part of the farmer association?"

When working alone we don’t get knowledge but when we work as a part of a farmer association we can improve our knowledge about farming through training programmes, get benefits and work towards a better development of our farming lands.

"How many coconuts do you use daily at home and how many do you sell?"

We harvest coconuts once every month. From that we use about 2 coconuts for cooking daily at home, so we keep aside 60 – 65 coconuts and sell the remaining.

"Is your farm organic and Fairtrade certified?"

Yes, my farm is organic, and it is Fairtrade certified.

"Any changes in your farming methods to overcome adverse climate changes?"

To overcome the adverse climatic changes, we have made moisture retention pits, and have dug a considerable number of drains to provide water to the trees. We also place a ring of coconut husks around the roots of the coconut tree to retain water and, we have pits with coconut husks where the rainwater gets collected as a water retention method for new coconut plants.

"Do you have a method to collect rainwater in the rainy season?"

We do that by having pits and drains with coconut husks where the rainwater gets collected and using those husks in the future.

"How has Fairtrade helped you to over these challenges?"

We get a good income from our coconuts, so during difficult times, we have a little money saved to cover our daily costs. As part of Fairtrade, we get knowledge from other people in the association in ways in which they have done things differently that have helped. Also, the premium is used for things which are useful for our farms, like expanding the water retentions ditches and getting a mechanical brush cutter

The Fairtrade association has been discussing how to implement a larger rainwater collection and irrigation project for use during the dry season, hoping it will help improve our yield. It feels good to be part of a group that helps each other and are looking at keeping on improving in the future.

Thanks! We hope Sriyani answered your questions and that you've been inspired by finding out a little more about her life. 

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Published at: 18-02-2022
Tags: Q&A Interview Ma's Happy Life Coconut Milk