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Climbing safely in date palms

In 2010, the BEDE association, which protects and promotes traditional agriculture, asked the Petzl Foundation to find a technical solution to improve the safety of date palm workers. It's a high risk job, often done barefoot, with very rudimentary equipment. A technical solution to prevent falls has now been developed with the help of the Petzl Foundation.

SEPTEMBER 2014

Date palm workers

  

  • Project partner: International solidarity association BEDE (biodiversity, exchange and propagation of experience), www.bede-asso.org, in conjunction with the local association Tazdaït
  • Country: Algeria, Africa
  • Project type: Accident prevention
  • Budget: €54,800 since 2010
Fondation Petzl - Projet Gestion du risque - Travailleurs des palmiers en Algérie - Dattes.jpeg

/fondation/foundation-picto-info.png?v=3  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. Date palms protect crops on small plots from the sun.

Climbing date palm is a dangerous job

Only traditional barefoot care and harvest techniques can conserve the date palm oasis ecosystem and its diversity of varieties. This is dangerous work because it is carried out at a height of between 10 and 25 meters above ground. 

Date palm workers
At over 20 meters high, protected by a single rope ring!

The workers are usually alone. The crown is often very wide and its tips are covered in long sharp needles. This profession requires exceptional skills and endurance. Real technical expertise is required to do the different phases of the work: climbing the trunk, working under the crown, crossing the crown, working inside the crown, or climbing down. 

Each palm requires about ten operations a year: pollination, pruning, treatment, harvesting, etc. Each date palm worker may have to work on more than one hundred palms. As the profession is perceived as dangerous, it has become difficult to find new workers. 

Date palm workers
Barefoot, date palm workers climb without protection: the rope is only used when working in the crown.

Today, date palm workers climb up and 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.It is easy to understand that despite their astonishing agility, these unprotected workers are sometimes the victims of fatal accidents.

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 and temporary or permanent inability to work.

Omar, date palm worker,member of Tazdaït, says:

Omar, phœnicicultor, association Tazdaït "In the Guerrara oasis, we have about 150,000 date palms. Thirty professionals work in them, assisted by around sixty casual or seasonal workers.

We asked the local hospitalfor statistics, and they told us that there had been on average ten accidents and five deaths per year since 1990. Both professional and seasonal workers were among the victims. That is why we have set uptraining led by volunteers to teach date palm workers how to work more safely"

Expertise in the field

The Petzl Foundation supports the international solidarity association BEDE (Biodiversity, exchange and propagation of experience), in partnership with the Tazdait association, a local not-for-profit organization which aims to improve the living conditions of agriculture laborers. These associations asked the Petzl Foundation to design an appropriate safety solution, using the latest technological advances in equipment for vertical activities.

To help them in their efforts, the Petzl Foundation sent a Petzl company employee to the field. This mission was to understand the date palm workers’ needs and to design a technical solution. Chris Blakeley, a trainer at the Petzl Training Center, met with date palm workers in the palm grove of Beni Isguen near Ghardaia (central Algeria) in late September 2011. They showed him their homemade equipment, explained their methods of ascent and gave him their ideas for improvement. 

"In any case, there was no form of protection", says Chris. "However, there is an obvious possibility of reducing the probability of serious or fatal accidents by creating a minimum security kit and a code of good practice."

Chris Blakeley, Petzl trainer, said:

Chris Blakeley, Petzl trainer

"On my first visit, I was extremely impressed by their techniques, the risks they took and their creativity in making their own equipment. They often climbed up very quickly, but a foot or a hand in the wrong place could easily have resulted in a fall. 

A climbing and protection kit would be a way of standardizing minimum equipment to reduce the probability of serious accidents. I imagine a light weight, efficient kit that is easy to use. This would also require major cultural changes by the climbers themselves, but I’m sure they are ready for change because of the accident statistics. 
The Petzl Foundation is an ideal partner for this part of the project. There is also a major need for sharing techniques and promoting good practices. We must help this profession to develop with more safety and to gain more recognition."

Algerian climbers are very interested in the development of techniques and protection equipment. The Petzl Foundation is committed to helping them develop a system, which is suited to their needs and culture, especially in the traditional oases.

An innovative technical solution 

The Petzl Customized Products Business Unit designed a harness with two adjustable lanyards that allows access to the top of the palm, then to work at height with a greatly reduced level of risk.

In November 2013, a new mission in the date palm of Ghardaïa allowed the date palm workers to test the harness prototypes themselves. After three days of testing, the technical solution developed in close collaboration with them was adopted. The BEDE Association is now calling on charitable organizations or date palm farm owners who are willing to invest in the safety of their workers so that the industrialization phase can be started.

Petzl Customized Products Business Unit Harness prototype

Permanent protection against falls

The palm harness solution was designed to climb safely in the date palms. It allows workers to climb and work inside the crown while remaining securely attached by two lanyards.

In the climbing up or suspension phases, date palm workers can now use both hands without running the risk of a fall to the ground.

Date palm worker with the harness

Date palm worker with the harness

BEDE association

BEDE (Biodiversity, exchange and propagation of experience) is an international association, which was founded in 1994.

Logo association BEDE

Along with fifty organizations from different French, European and international networks, BEDE aims to protect and promote traditional agriculture.

BEDE organizes workshops and meetings, which bring together farmers, researchers and decision-makers in Europe, North Africa and West Africa. Their work also publicizes and develops an understanding of the issues faced by traditional agricultural workers.

Learn more about the association BEDE: www.bede-asso.org

Date palm worker

Uploaded in september 2014


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