Page last updated at 10:49 GMT, Friday, 21 August 2009 11:49 UK

India seeks genius coconut picker

Coconut picker in Kerala
Kerala has an abundant supply of coconuts, but few people to pick them

A southern Indian state is offering 1m rupees (£12,500) to anyone who can invent a coconut-picking machine.

A labour shortage in Kerala has reduced the size of the state's once-bountiful coconut harvest.

The offer of funding from Kerala's industries department is open to anyone around the world who can devise a machine to reach coconuts at 30 metres.

The number of coconut pickers in India has declined since the decline of the country's ancient caste system.

Coconuts have to be plucked once every 45 days and those who own the trees are finding it increasingly difficult to find professional pickers.

Many young men now shun coconut-picking in favour of white collar jobs, meaning there is no longer a guaranteed labour force.

The total production of coconuts in Kerala fell from 6,001 million to 5,564 million between 2005 and 2008.

Huge demand

The winning machine must be operated from the ground, Kerala's industries department insists, and must reach 30 metres into Kerala's coconut palms.

It also has to be inexpensive to construct and operate, and easy to move around, the government says.

Industries Minister Elamaram Kareem said current machines that operate at tree level were not good enough.

"We call upon anyone to develop a product that can be used to pluck coconuts standing on the ground.

"Anyone wanting to go ahead with this should submit a design and if it is approved they will be given Rs 1,000, 000 to develop this product," the minister said.

The winning machine was certain to be hugely popular because there would be so much demand for it, he added.

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