Yesterday's Indian Express, Cochin Edition carried an article on Joseph Alapatt. I know this gentleman for four decades and more. As far as I am aware of, he has done more for the coconut farmers of Kerala than anyone else, both personally and as Chairman of the Indian Coconut Council and in several other official capacities.
Alapatt's love affair with coconuts started at an young age though he began his career as a Director of the Catholic Syrian Bank, Trichur, a major financial institution of Kerala. His ancestral properties include a large area of coconuts.
The coconut farming sector in Kerala is in doldrums.This is not a sudden development. The diminishing returns scenario began years ago. One of the major reasons for this decline is the labor situation.
The yield from coconut trees is steadily decreasing. From over 40 nuts per tree per year a few years ago, I believe that the production has drooped to below 25 nuts. Two reasons for this are (1) the planting materials are often sub-standard because of unhealthy nursery practices, and (2) due to high cost and nonavailability of labor, the seasonal attention that is required is not given.
The price of coconuts in Kerala remains uneconomic. The support price is unrealistic. There is no meaningful government backing. JosephAlapat says that in the Philippines, the coconut portfolio comes under the President and in Sri Lanka there is a separate Minister for coconuts. He also says that the prices are kept low in Kerala by the copra mafia.
Before the coconuts can be made into copra, they have to be plucked from the trees. This is a process that has to be done 7 to 8 times in an year. A particular community attends to this job. There are not enough of them to meet the demand and those available ask for exorbitant wages.
Once, during his frequent trips to coconut growing countries, Joseph Alapatt found that in Indonesia monkeys are trained to pluck coconuts. He requested the Minister concerned to send a squad of monkeys to Kerala on a trial basis. According to the article, the Minister replied "The labor leaders in Kerala would kill the monkeys as soon as the animals reached that state"!
That is Kerala.