Lack of pickers force India coconut farmers to innovate
Here in India’s southern state of Kerala, a lush land known as “God’s country,” coconuts are big business: The state boasts more than 500 million coconut trees, covering 40 percent of its land. But these days, coconut farmers are finding it increasingly difficult to find pickers, as younger, better-educated workers shun manual labor for more prestigious “chair” jobs.
S. Sathish makes the job look easy: He tucks a machete into his waistband and shimmies spiderlike up 60 feet of tree in Neyyattinkara, bringing several coconuts crashing to the jungle floor with a few deft cuts.
He’s been picking part time for three years, when he’s not driving a truck. Climbing is tiring, he said, but once you get the hang of it, you can scamper up pretty quickly. Mornings, he explains, are best, before dust settles on the trunks, making them difficult to grip.
He says he can climb up to 50 trees per day at 50 cents per tree.
The state, with the highest literacy rate in the country at 93 percent, does a good job educating people, raising their expectations. But it’s short on industry or jobs. The result is ranks of unemployed who wouldn’t think of sullying their hands, even though some coconut pickers earn more than teachers or nurses do.
Even those with limited education and skill become choosy, given the option of construction jobs in the Persian Gulf states, a local stigma against manual labor and Kerala’s left-dominated politics that have long encouraged strong labor unions and food support programs.
It’s astounding to me that in a nation of 1.2 BILLION people, they are having difficulty getting people to do simple manual labor while almost 22% of the population is living below the poverty line. While the literacy rate of Kerala may be 93%, all of India is about 74%.
“The world needs ditch diggers too.”
No matter how rich,advanced or educated a community or society becomes, there will always be a need for someone else to plunge the toilet.