(CNN) -- Sri Lanka's coconut development minister has banned the felling of coconut trees in an effort to increase coconut production in the face of a severe shortage.
Minister Jagath Pushpakumara said that over the past few years, coconut production has decreased because coconut palms are being cut down. He was addressing a media briefing Monday at the Government Information Department.
The ban requires that approval for cutting coconut trees be obtained from the provincial managers of the Coconut Development Board. The ban will not apply to trees affected by the coconut leaf wilt disease in the Weligama area on the nation's southern coast.
Sri Lanka's annual coconut production is 2.7 billion nuts, and the ministry expects to increase this to 3.5 billion, Pushpakumara said.
In an effort to curb a coconut black market, the Sri Lankan government last week set a ceiling retail price of 30 rupees (27 US cents) per coconut in state-owned stores, but stocks quickly sold out and then reappeared at more than double the price on the black market.
The island nation-state in the Indian Ocean is approximately the size of the state of West Virginia and has a population of 21.3 million. The island counts coconuts as a dietary staple and one of its biggest exports, along with trademarked Ceylon tea and rubber.