Imagine living in the Mecca of coconut. You are sure to consume a lot of coconut or eat food cooked using coconut oil. The oil is also used as a natural hair care solution by millions in India.
India is the third largest producer of coconut in the world. I currently live in the province/state of Tamil Nadu, which is the highest producer of coconut in the country. Tamil Nadu produced 6,918 million nuts during the agricultural year 2014–2015. My district (the district of Coimbatore) is the highest producer within the province. One coconut tree can produce from 30 to 150 nuts per year depending on agricultural practices, and in my neighborhood that works out to an average of over 10,000 coconuts per hectare per year! This is why agricultural education is so important for farmers!
Coconut trees are everywhere. Houses, schools, and business establishments all grow coconut trees. As you drive through my area, you can see coconut farms on either side of the highways. Most visitors have never seen so many coconut trees, even those visitors from other parts of India.
People from different walks of life own a coconut farm (regardless of the size). The smallest own at least a few trees around their homes. One of the primary reasons for this is the availability of water. The region receives generous rainfall and is surrounded by a dozen dams, which keep the water supply consistent. Farms, in my province, benefit from the free electricity provided by the state government for irrigation and other general purposes.
The high productivity should also be attributed to the generous use of pesticides and fertilizers by the farmers. Ask any farmer in this region and he will easily be able to tell you the actual advantages (in terms of numbers and quality) of using fertilizers and pest control in maximizing productivity and longevity of trees.
Even though the conditions are favorable for coconut production, rains do fail occasionally affecting thousands of farmers who solely depend on income from coconut farms to sustain their livelihood. Because of the risks, many are beginning to diversify their cultivation. It has also become a common trend for entrepreneurs from cities to invest in coconut farms. As time goes on, it will be interesting to understand the impact of the shift in farm ownership on agricultural productivity, rural employment, and small family businesses.
There is a generational void in farming created due to the migration of Millennials to India’s established and successful software industry. Farms are now looked after by aging parents whose children are in the cities, and also by laborers who are paid a monthly wage. This lack of continuity will impact the traditional significance associated with farm ownership and potentially create less skilled workers.
Despite the pitfalls, coconut farming is a success story in a country where more than half of the districts are struggling from drought. The trees are more drought resistant than other crops, and the severity of drought is not as bad here. Hopefully the receding El Nino might make life better for these tall trees, as the region’s favorable climatic conditions will return.
The southern part of India constitutes a rich belt of coconut cultivation. It is very different from other tropical countries. Its uniqueness arises from the lush farms and cities and the booming economy. An interesting contrast between very different lives, one can find coconut farms just a few minutes’ drive from the heart of big cities. Life is an adventure out here, and I love it!