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,” said the 60-year-old.
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.
Coconut plucking is one of the host of traditional occupations which are drying up in Goa. Caste stigma, 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 Goa 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,” said Orlando Rodrigues, managing director of the state-run corporation.
“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,” said Rodrigues.
“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.
The corporation, he said, had also started an insurance scheme for the pluckers in case they meet with an accident.
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.
25,000 Area in hectares under coconut cultivation in Goa in 2012