India's Progress Leaves Traditional Jobs Behind

A coconut plucker climbs a tree in Kerala, India.
A coconut plucker climbs a tree in Kerala, India.
High up in the coconut palms of south India there's something that's getting harder and harder to find - not a rare species but an endangered specialty: plucking coconuts.

Armed with just a sharp knife and a bamboo ladder, generations have shimmied up to harvest by hand the 15 billion coconuts India produces every year, reports CBS News correspondent Seth Doane.

P.K. Venu has picked coconuts in the Indian state of Kerala for 22 years.

Venu said through a translator, "It's a very difficult job, but I do not have the option to do anything else."

He followed his father into this line of work, but says, "After me, I don't think anyone else in my family will do this."

Venu earns about $0.20 per tree - on a good day almost $8 - decent money for a dangerous climb up to 100 feet, or 10 stories high.

When asked is he wants either of his two kids to pick coconuts for a living, Venu says, "No, I want to send them to college."

His son Vishnu would rather be an engineer, his daughter Braveela a teacher.

"None of my friends want to be coconut pickers," says Braveela. "We all want to have bigger jobs."

This is a story about coconuts, but it's also a story about the progress of India. Kerala has a nearly 100 percent literacy rate and as newer, high-paying job opportunities abound, filling those traditional jobs is much harder.

At the coconut development board, they're worried.

"We are much concerned" about a shortage of workers, says board member Tomas Matthew.

Matthew has watched Kerala's coconut harvest drop more than 12 percent since 2006, and government attempts to mechanize the process have come up short.

It's difficult to find the next generation of coconut pickers, says Matthew, because "When they get educations they [are] naturally going for…white collar jobs."

Only about half of the coconuts harvested here are eaten. Fibers from the coarse husk are exported to the United States for twine and floor matting while the oil is extracted for cooking and making soap and shampoo.

And they're even part of worship here, broken open as an offering to god.

Venu says his job is good but has a reason why he wants his kids to do something else.

"For the next generation," he says, "there are other opportunities."

Opportunities that leave the future of these traditional jobs up in the air.