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The Simple #Innovation That Is Changing The Lives Of Coconut Tree Climbers


Appachan was a school dropout but had a great ability to innovate things that could be used in day to day life. He saw the struggles faced by tree climbers, especially when it came to climbing the tall coconut or areca nut trees. He decided to solve this problem by inventing a simple and innovative tree climber that makes the task of climbing a cake walk.

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Here is Appacchan’s story and how he invented this

Kerala, which literally means land of the coconut palm, is synonymous with breathtaking back waters and coconut trees . Traditionally professional climbers (thandan) have been engaged by coconut planters for plucking the fruits from the top of the coconut trees.  But with time, the art of tree climbing has lost its lustre and it is now quite difficult to find such professional climbers. Late Mr. M. J. Joseph foresaw this problem and developed an innovative tree climber that makes life easier for the person.

M. J. Joseph alias Appachan
M. J. Joseph, alias Appachan

M. J. Joseph, also known as Appachan, was a school dropout but he had an innate ability to be conscious of his surroundings and learn from the environment. He made some other innovative products like the instrument that could squeeze coconut milk and juice from fruits.  But his most popular innovation is the tree climber.


Mr. Joseph developed this device under the guidance of his father. This tree climber helps in climbing tall trees like coconut or areca nut trees.


The Device

The palm climber consists of two metal loops that are meant for holding the legs. They have a handle at the top for hand grip and a pedal base at the bottom. The loops are put around the tree trunk on the opposite sides. The loop on either side is lifted up by the simultaneous movement of the hand and feet. By such alternate motion, one can easily climb a coconut tree in minutes.


This simple and easy-to-use device to climb up or down coconut palm, arecanut or other similar trees is handy for people untrained to climb up such tall trees, enabling to do accomplish the task swiftly and with ease. It can be very useful for even trained people. They can reduce drudgery, and climb faster using less energy. It can be used for gathering nuts or spraying pesticides. It can also be used to climb electric poles with some modifications.

Tree climber designed by Appachan.
Tree climber designed by Appachan.

Industry Collaboration

Appachan and his tree climber bagged a prize in the farm implements category in the Second National Grassroots Technological Innovation and Traditional Knowledge Competition, organized by National Innovation Foundation (NIF-India) in the year 2001-2002. Villagers then started calling him ‘the local Spiderman’.

The utility of this device attracted Kevin Davies, a distributor of new products in USA, to place an initial order of 25 units. “The device worked perfectly. I climbed a 40-feet coconut tree very quickly and safely. I am impressed”, he wrote with satisfaction. He in fact, offered to be its distributor for North and South America.


Coupled with some basic safety devices like a harness, this device makes climbing up a straight-trunk tree or a pole quick, easy and safe. The device, with no sophisticated technology, has not only been well accepted in US, but also achieved a whopping success back home. Appachan had a workshop, St Mary’s Engineering Works, where he used to manufacture tree climbers. While he was alive, NIF-India facilitated sale of his climber to customers in USA, Maldives, Thailand, Australia, Brazil, Mexico etc., and is still trying to help his family expand the business.

Inspiration to Innovators

Appachan’s contribution is not only in inventing this particular tree climber but also in inspiring a whole lot of people to improvise, innovate and come up with their own versions of the same. Prominent among them are innovators Mushtaq Ahmad Dar of Jammu and Kashmir, who has developed a smaller pole-cum-tree-climber and DN Venkat of Tamil Nadu, who has developed a seating type tree climber.

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About the Author: Rahul Anand is interested in social innovation, enterprise and social impact. He is co-founder of Bloodaid

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