The Left parties who rule Kerala have launched an international hunt to get someone to devise a machine that can pluck coconuts without a person having to clamber up the tall trees. And R10 lakh awaits the winner.
Such is the labour crisis in the state that the CPI-(M) led government is even keeping aside its vehement, at times violent, opposition to machines in agriculture. “The extreme scarcity of workforce in the field of coconut harvesting forced Kerala Government to plan such an innovative programme to solve the issue,” says an official release from the Industry department of Kerala government, describing the competition to be held on Thursday and Friday at the at Agriculture College, Vellayani in the state capital, Thiruvananthapuram.
The growing educational opportunities, decline of the caste system, and youths leaving the state have created a shortage of workers.
While an unskilled labourer now gets Rs 300, that is not enough to attract workers.
Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Goa grow cocounts. The area under coconut cultivation in Kerala is 818.8 hectares, the productivity is 5,641 nuts an hectare.
Terms of the competition say the apparatus should be simple, light-weight, a woman should be able to use it and it should be operated from the ground.
Among the eight shortlisted entries there is only one foreign entry. The state government says it is a Japanese firm with an Indian office.
“Though mechanisation happened in almost all sectors around the world in the post industrial revolution period, some areas remained aloof as technology was too amateur to handle tasks like coconut tree climbing. Shortage of skilled manpower even affected the coconut economy of Kerala,” explains the release.