Picking coconuts and arecanuts (betel) from 100-foot tall trees takes great strength and dexterity. It's no wonder then that there are fewer and fewer masters of this traditional skill.
Concern over this was raised at the National Technical Consultation on Employment Policy for India being held in the city by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and Ministry of Labour and Employment recently.
According to ILO member N.M. Adyanthaya, Karnataka and Kerala are facing an acute shortage of such climbers. “Climbing these trees requires skill and training; it is risky and laborious. The climbers usually swung from one tree to another pluck the fruits.”
Three to four million farmers dependent on coconut and arecanut farms in the country are in desperate need of traditional climbers. “In Karnataka, one has to go hunting for a climber and bring him in a taxi to the farm. As they are in great demand, they charge Rs 400-500 per day, which farmers find difficult to pay as they do not earn much,” said Adyanthaya, adding that large farmlands were lying fallow as a result.
“Women are being taught the skill but it is too risky for them. We should have some semi-mechanised contraption to take the climbers up the tree,” he said.
Many such traditional skills are dying out as they are part of semi-organised or unorganised sectors and do not have in-built systems to sustain them. According to Jose Manuel Salazar Xirinachs, executive director, employment, ILO, traditional entrepreneurship should be built up by building on the skills of those who know the trade the best.