The land of coconut trees has been witnessing a scarcity of coconut tree climbers. But now, the dearth of climbers has given a chance to migrant labourers as well as women to come forward and take up the job, that too in a professional manner.
Rakesh Kumar Yadhav, a native of Chhattisgarh, was climbing a coconut tree for the first time in his life after he landed in Thiruvananthapuram, on the lookout for a job. He was inspired to make it his debut job in Kerala, after hearing about his village mate who was earning well through the job. “It is the first time I am climbing a tree, let alone a coconut tree. For the past two years I have been earning quite well, and am able to take care of my family of five at Chhattisgarh. I work with a coconut tree climbing service centre at Ayiroopara, and get paid around `25,000 to `35,000 monthly, which is more like a shehar kaam (city job) for me,” says Rakesh.
Rakesh is one among the workers at the centre at Ayiroopara, which employs around 40 non-Malayali labourers as coconut climbers. The team, in special uniforms, visit houses which book for the service through their customer care phone number. “We are trained to use the climbing machine. On a daily basis, we get around 30 trees,” adds Rakesh.
It’s mainly the non-availability of traditional coconut climbers which has led them to employ migrant labourers, says one of the officials from the centre. “Customers from all over Thiruvananthapuram make use of the service and there is a good demand for it. We charge ` 45 per tree,” he says.
Meanwhile, Rajendran S, a happy customer from Vattiyoorkavu, says the migrant coconut climbers are very punctual. “We used to prefer our traditional climber, but he passed away last month and I couldn’t find a replacement. It was then that I came across a poster on the roadside, about the coconut tree climbing service. It works just the way we book a gas cylinder in a LPG agency. They confirmed the service at 7 am, after two days. The worker reached the house at sharp 7 am! However, he plucked the tender coconuts as well. The other issue we face is language. But he was very professional and cleaned the upper portion of the tree,” says Rajendran.
And it’s not just migrant workers; the new set of coconut tree climbers in the city also includes women, who take up the profession as a means of livelihood. Usha Rajan, a native of Kattakada and coconut climber for the past seven years, says she has no qualms about being called a coconut climber. She, along with four to five women, visits houses as a team.
“When I learnt that the Krishi Bhavan in our area was providing training for women in coconut climbing, I joined. I must say it changed my life as I started earning well. I was able to help my husband and even pay my children’s school fees as well. In the initial days, I received a lot of criticism from people who felt it is not a woman’s job. But the strong support I received from my husband helped me overcome the stigma and move forward. I think the initiative is an example to show that nothing is impossible for women and that she is equal to men,” says Usha. The women charge ` 30 per tree in rural areas and ` 60 in urban areas.
“In the city areas we have to be careful about electric posts and vehicles passing by before plucking the coconuts. We have been providing the service at the Kerala Government Secretariat garden for the past few months as well. If the enquiries are from far away, we visit in groups led by our mentor, Ulliyoor S Surendranath, president of State Missionary Coconut Climbers Association,” she says, adding, “However, it is sad that we are not given any insurance or subsidies by the Krishi Bhavan authorities as promised, though we risk our lives to earn a living.”
Now, coconut plucking will no longer be considered a male bastion. Their female counterpart will give them a knife-edge competition as first batch of ‘Friends of Coconut’ completed their six day training at the Peruvannamuzhi Krishi Vigyan Kendra of the IISR recently. Indian Institute of Spices Research (IISR), Kozhikode has recently initiated a step towards empowering women through training in coconut plucking. Institute recently conducted an ‘all women’ training programme on coconut climbing for a group of 20 women (20-35 years).
The training was organized as part of the ‘Friends of Coconut Tree’ programme being implemented by the Coconut Development Board to train unemployed youth in the art of climbing coconut trees and caring for them. KVK, Peruvannamuzhi is the first to conduct a training programme exclusively for women as part of the Friends of Coconut Tree programme of the Board.
The programme covered introduction to coconut palm, climate, soil requirements and varieties, sessions on climbing machine-main parts, working and trial, nutrient management, recycling of palm waste, intercropping and mixed cropping, etc. Besides, practical lessons on climbing coconut trees, sessions were also held on harvesting, tender and mature nut identification, Identification of pests and disease of coconut and their management, crown cleaning aspects, seed nut procurement, safe handling of seed nuts and tender nuts, coconut nursery and its management etc
Physical exercise towards the beginning of each day’s training was another highlight of the programme. According to the trainees, coconut climbing is an easy task and they felt no physical exhaustion while using the machine. During the last session of the training, a ‘Coconut Olympics’ was also conducted in which the trainees were able to climb the palms within 48- 50 seconds, a feat equivalent to their male counterparts.
‘The training gave us a sense of confidence that we can do anything if we have the will. Moreover, we are now able to earn a good amount by spending three to four hours a day,’ says Aneela Mathew from Peruvannamuzhi, a practicing woman climber trained at KVK. ‘Inspired by our success, many women are approaching us for training in coconut climbing using machines,’ adds beaming Aneela. ‘By using the machine I can climb 25 to 30 trees a day and manage to earn around 400 rupees within three hours,’ says Reeja VG, another women trainee who has taken up this as a livelihood.
‘It’s an ironical fact that Kerala, the land of coconut, is suffering from shortage of coconut pluckers for the past few years. As a solution for this, the Krishi Vigyan Kendra of IISR has conducted a series of training programmes in coconut climbing using machines in collaboration with Coconut Development Board. Many women are now taking up it as a profession and contributing a good share to their family income,’ says Dr. M Anandaraj, Director, Indian Institute of Spices Research (IISR), Kozhikode.
‘KVK is now in the process of establishing a ‘Coconut Climbers’ Bank’ in which the people trained from KVK can register their names. Anyone who needs the services of a coconut climber can contact the bank and avail the services of registered coconut climbers in their own at a reasonable rate. Thus, this scheme will be beneficial to both the customer and climber,’ says Dr. T Arumuganathan, Programme coordinator, KVK Peruvannamuzhi.
Krishi jagran/New Delhi