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Latest Crop Crisis
Coconut farmers in lush Kerala state find it increasingly difficult to hire people, as younger workers shun manual labor for more prestigious jobs.
... They're just plain lazy," said K.P. Peter, a small-time coconut farmer. "They get all sorts of subsidies from the government, don't show up on time, leave us stranded. There should be a law against such irresponsibility."
As part of their search for pickers, industry groups have looked to the likes of Thailand and Indonesia ...
... countries that train monkeys to pluck the coconuts. (Understandably, some local workers find the prospect of being replaced by a monkey mildly insulting.)
But the monkeys aren't quite working out.
"The problem is, the monkeys climb but can't tell what's ripe and just harvest everything," said Sree Kumar, a professor at the College of Agriculture in Kerala's capital, Thiruvananthapuram.
In a bid to broaden the labor pool, the Coconut Board's Friends of the Coconut Tree program is trying to recruit women — picking has traditionally been man's work — older workers and anyone else who dreams of reaching for the fronds.
The board's six-day Friends course trains people to use climbing devices, allowing even the most uncoordinated workers to get themselves up a trunk, provided they stifle any fear of heights, which can reach 100 feet. (We're talking a 10-story building.) The climbing devices, in sitting and standing models, cost about $50 and work by ratcheting the rider up the trunk with a foot-powered device. Around for at least 30 years, they were upgraded in 2010 with rust-resistant materials and a revolutionary new feature: a safety belt.