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.