1. TROPICAL AGRICULTURE
Kerala is an agricultural land and this represents the “agro ecosystem” of a tropical country. In this artificial ecosystem, crops replace natural vegetation. This is a predominant sight in Kerala especially in the midland region. Being a tropical country, Kerala is a natural destination for learning and enjoying the orchards, plantations, multiple cropping, mixed cropping and homestead gardens.
Kerala’s landscapes are covered with various palms and lush rice paddy fields in the coastal area, rubber, banana and pineapple plantations in the midland regions while cardamom and tea plantations convert the highlands into green blankets. Kerala’s economy is dependent on agriculture and seasonal, annual, tree and plantation crops provide the needed income for the families. The total area of agricultural land in Kerala is 58%. The major crops of Kerala are as follows:
Food crops: Rice, tapioca, yam, sweet potato, elephant yam, cocoyam, pulses, millet, maize
Spices: Cardamom, clove, pepper, nutmeg, ginger, turmeric, vanilla, cinnamon
Plantation crops: Rubber, tea, coffee, coconut, areca nut, cashew
Common fruits: Mango, pineapple, papaya, jack fruit, guava, banana, plantain
Common vegetables: Spinach, pea, drumstick, cabbage, tomato, brinjal, cucumber, ladies finger, pumpkin, bitter guard, snake guard, string beans, ginger, turmeric, green chilly, cauliflower and carrots.
Silviculture is another form of agriculture in Kerala that provides pulp wood, soft wood, and timbers. Trees like teak, rosewood, Jack fruit, Anjili, Mahogany and sandal wood are famous timber yielding plants.
2. KERALA AND HOMESTEAD GARDENS
Homestead gardening is a traditional practice of multiple and mixed cropping in small holdings in Kerala. This farming system is a need based crop production system adjacent to adjacent homes of Keralites, which can be defined as the “man made forest fitted to family needs”. At first sight, the homestead gardens of Kerala can be seen blending with the surrounding landscape mimicking that of a natural forest ecosystem in structure and function. The multistory and distinct canopy stratification of homestead gardens are achieved by careful agro ecosystem design by the farmers. This is based on the subsistence need of his family, climate of the area, economic factors and dietary habits of the household. In general, perennial crops like coconut, jackfruit, timber yielding forest trees, arecanut, cashew etc. occupy the upper layer followed by mango, nutmeg, pepper, clove, cinnamon as the second layer. Banana, cassava, yam- like crops from the third layer in this man made forest while the ground layer is occupied by ginger, turmeric, pineapple and various types of vegetables. The resultant canopy architecture from the integrated farming of trees, shrubs, climbers and herbs in the available land of a small scale farmer in reality is equivalent to a rainforest in structure and function. The home gardens of Kerala are often combined with livestock rearing which interact synergistically to sustain productivity. The common livestocks like cows, goats, buffalo and poultry when added to homestead will provide additional income for the families. This is a common sight all over Kerala.
3. KERALA AND SACRED GROVES
Sacred groves are associated with some Hindu families and temples in Kerala. They are wilderness gardens set aside for snake worship and rituals. Sacred groves are great natural history destinations as they represent ancient patterns of vegetation in modified habitats. They are considered as biodiversity conservation sites and best preserves of local flora and fauna. Sacred groves generally house wide varieties of forest trees, shrubs, herbs and climbers and give the appearance of a small forest. In this undisturbed ecosystem, they also support several snake species, birds and invertebrates. Some of these sacred groves supply medicinal plants of high potency. Why sacred groves are set aside for snake worship is an interesting question that can be answered only from the background of Hindu heritage. According to mythology, when Parasurama reclaimed Kerala from Arabian Sea, the land was a lush rainforest full of snakes. The Hindus started worshipping snakes to protect them from poisonous bites. But for biologists, the conservation of rare floral species over the last several centuries in the natural gardens of temples and houses are charitable act of biodiversity conservation. As a result, some of the sacred groves in Kerala are becoming educational centers for college students for birding, ethno botanical research and taxonomical studies.
4. KERALA AND AYURVEDA
Ayurveda is an ancient medical science which was developed in India thousands of years ago. Ayurveda, the science of life (Ayur means life, Veda means science) has deep roots in Kerala due to the availability of medicinal plants. Kerala has more than 1000 varieties of medicinal plants in the herbal mountains of Western Ghats.
In addition to Western Ghats, Kerala’s sacred groves are also rich with medicinal plants of high potency. The availability of medicinal plants and traditional knowledge of Ayurveda make Kerala famous for medical tourism and phytomedical research. Ayurveda is the soul and essence of Kerala and Ayurvedic doctors prevent diseases, maintain health and fight illness through a combination of herbal medicine, diet control and therapeutic massages. Ayurveda when combined with yoga and meditation will make the drugs more effective.