Kerala is the land of coconut-palms. The cultivation of pepper, which goes back through the centuries to link Kerala with many far-flung lands, maintains those links even today. Pepper from Kerala is exported to more than sixty countries, half the total quantity being shared between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. Cashew is another most cultivated crop and a big earner of foreign exchange. Interestingly, nearly eighty per cent of the cashew factories in India are located in Kerala and provide employment to more than 125,000 workers. Further, the state has set up a Cashew Corporation to tackle some of the problems of the industry. The other chief plantation crops of Kerala include tea, coffee, rubber and cardamom. Kozhikode, Cannanore and Palghat districts are the major coffee-growing regions of Kerala. While rubber is mostly utilised within the country, substantial quantities of tea, coffee and cardamom are exported. Kerala also contributes about a half of India's areca nut production, sixty per cent of ginger and enjoys a virtual monopoly in lemon grass.
The agricultural economy of Kerala has been undergoing structural transformation from the mid seventies by switching over a large proportion of its traditional crop area which was devoted to subsistence crops like rice and tapioca to more remunerative crops like coconut and rubber. India is the fourth largest producer of natural rubber with a share of nine per cent in the world after Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. In Kerala, out of a total geographical area of 38.86 lakh hectares, net sown area is about 54 per cent. Forest occupies around 28 per cent. Agriculture and forest sectors account for near about 82 per cent of the total land area. There was no perceptible improvement in the extent of land use for agriculture.
Unfortunately, the deviation in rainfall in the state, apart from affecting production and productivity of annual crops, also affects the productivity of perennial crops such as coconut, rubber and pepper in the long run. Irrigation development in Kerala is mainly centred on the development of surface water resources mainly on the development of major and medium irrigation projects. Rice is the major crop benefited through irrigation infrastructure. Even in the case of this crop, the incremental yield, which the irrigation support could bring, is not significant. Among the crops, coconut tops the major crop supported by irrigation. It accounted for about 36 per cent followed by Paddy (35 percent) Banana (8.34 percent) Areca nut (7.1 percent) and Vegetables (5 percent). Further, Kerala has a wide network of rivers and rivulets and springs spread over the entire cropped area.