Grimper dans les palmiers, un métier dangereux
Saharan agriculture is mainly based on the date palm, especially in the oasis. With more than 17 million palms of which 10 million are exploited, the date is the first food product export in Algeria. Climbers, like acrobats, grow palms and make the date harvest. It's a risky job, often exercised barefoot, with very basic equipment ... How can we prevent falls?
According to the Algerian Red Crescent, there has been one death per year in the area of Ghardaia, which represents only 5% of Algerian palm groves. For one death, ten falls were recorded in 2010, many with serious consequences including: disability, inability to work...
This profession requires qualities of exceptional endurance with palms, a real technical expertise up to an average height of 12 to 15 meters and 20 meters. Each palm requires about ten operations a year: pollination, pruning, treatment, harvesting ... And each operator, often a simple laborer, may deal with more than one hundred palms. We can see the risk of such a business when it is exercised without effective security!
The Petzl Foundation supports the international solidarity association BEDE (Biodiversity, exchange and dissemination of experience), in partnership with Tazdait, a local working for the improvement of living conditions and working labourers. Today, the profession is perceived as dangerous. It has become difficult to find new climbers. These associations have asked the Foundation to conceive an appropriate safety kit, thanks to technological advances in equipment for vertical activities.
Today, laborers climb-up and climb-down without any real protection. In rare cases they use a rope passed behind the trunk. Some of them use a "home-made" padded belt to be more comfortable. The risk of falls are great, especially when they are crossing into the crown. To help them in their efforts, the Foundation sent a Petzl company employee to the field. This mission was to understand the needs and to imagine a technical solution. The goal is to help laborers find a safe and acceptable solution for all.
Chris Blakeley, head of V.axess, the Petzl training and research center. He had an appointment with labourers in the palm grove of Beni Isguen near Ghardaia (central Algeria) in the late September 2011. They presented their equipment, often "homemade", their methods of ascent and ideas. They also demonstrated in climbing palms, explaining the movement in the crown: "In any case, there was no form of protection, says Chris. They often rise very quickly, but without the possibility of error. A foot or a hand in the wrong place would very often result in a fall. "
Barefoot, solo 18 metres high ...
Algerian climbers are very interested in the development of techniques and equipment for protection: "It was a pleasant surprise and inspiring for me, reflects Chris. A kit of ascent and protection would be a way to standardize a minimum equipment to reduce the likelihood of serious accidents. I imagine lightweight, efficient and easy to use materials. It will also require significant cultural changes from the climbers. I'm sure they are prepared to accept that in view of the accident statistics. The Petzl Foundation is well placed to help this part of the project. I also see a great need in the sharing of techniques and promotion of good practice. This is to help the profession evolve in greater security and also better recognition. "
Chris also noted that they often work alone, except during harvest when they are sometimes two, with someone below to help: "To increase safety and efficiency, one solution would be to work in pairs as a minimum"
The Petzl Foundation is committed to them to help develop a system suited to their uses and their cultures, especially in the traditional oasis. The aim is to finalise a kit, available for late summer 2013.
Learn more about the association BEDE: www.bede-asso.org
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