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Goa plucks solution to its coconutty problem

IANS  |  Panaji 

Every few months, Anjuna resident Elizabeth D'mello goes nuts.

Whenever the 25 coconut palms in her backyard blossom and are laden with nuts, instead of being glad, she grits her teeth and makes desperate phone calls, leaves urgent messages and generally raises hell looking for a coconut plucker.

"The coconuts are ready. I can see them. But there's nothing I can do about it," she says recounting her ordeal in tracking down elusive coconut pluckers."

"Pluckers are in short supply and they know it. Often we have to beg them to pluck the tree in time. Even getting an appointment with a doctor is easier," the 60-year-old D'Mello told IANS.

Last year she had to deal with a plucker who was so drunk that after climbing halfway up the third tree, he stopped and clung to it, refusing to climb up or slide down.

"The price of plucking has gone high too. Now they charge almost Rs.500 for half a day's work and one coconut for every tree plucked," she said.

D'Mello's angst surfaces every now and then in nearly every Goan homestead that has fruit-bearing coconut palms swaying in the property alongside.

Coconut plucking is one of the host of traditional occupations which are drying up in

Caste stigma - coconut pluckers originally belonged to the 'render' caste, which is listed under the Other Backward Classes - modern education and the sense of 'menial-ness' socially associated with the chore have left coconuts literally high and dry and out of reach.

That bleak picture might soon change though, with the State Horticulture Corporation (GSHC) deciding to start a human resource consultancy of sorts for the elusive coconut pluckers and needy coconut plantation owners.

"We are only trying to bridge the gap by bringing both the pluckers and plantation owners on one page," Orlando Rodrigues, managing director of the state-run corporation, said.

"What we have done is to create a data resource for both plantation owners and pluckers, who have been appointed by us on a contract basis," Rodrigues told IANS.

"Sixty pluckers would be made available at the district headquarters and would be paid a monthly sum by the department. They would be sent to coconut plantations when their services are called for," Rodrigues said, adding that these visits would also help them earn more.

The corporation, he said, had also started an insurance scheme for the pluckers in case they meet with an accident. Coconut trees are already covered, according to a state agriculture department scheme.

"The coconut farmer will have to pay only Rs.1.60 per tree annually. In case a coconut palm dies, he stands to get Rs.1,200," according to agriculture department director Satish Tendulkar. The scheme was announced in 2010.

Seventy-five percent of the premium is sponsored by other agencies like the Coconut Development Board, the state agriculture department, a local horticulture collective and Zuari Agro Ltd, a pesticide manufacturing company, as part of its corporate social responsibility (CSR) effort.

The horticulture corporation hopes that the new initiative will also help to serve the interest of both the coconut plantation owners and pluckers.

"We are playing facilitators as well as helping to revive interest and keep the tradition intact," he said.

It is high time that coconut growth in the state was rejuvenated.

Government statistics show that the area under cultivation has hardly increased over a decade. In 2012, over 25,000 hectares was under coconut cultivation, exactly the same as in 2001.

(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at mayabhushan.n@ians.in)

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