Think of Kerala and you immediately see images of coconuts and aromatic spices.
Tall, slender, majestic with open umbrella of fronds at the top, the coconut palm-also known as the Kalpavriksha-dominates many Indian landscapes, in particular, Kerala. Coconut forms an integral part of the state’s cuisine, culture and livelihood. There is a saying that there are as many coconut trees in Kerala as stars in the sky!
Every part of the coconut tree is used. Coconut water, a refreshing drink, is directly sipped from the unripe fruit, the grated and dried copra is used to thicken sauces, and the oil extracted from the fruit is a popular frying medium. Palm sugar or jaggery is made from the juice extracted by cutting young stems of several palm species such as the coconut palm, the palmyra palm, and particularly the kittul palm. The coconut sap can also be fermented to yield toddy, an alcoholic beverage. The shells are used to make handicraft objects, spoons and ladles, leaves are dried to remove their veins for making brooms, and the jute-like material from the nodes is used as a material for lining.
Kerafed, the apex co-operative federation of coconut farmers in Kerala, is the single largest procurer of copra in the state. Professionally managed, the cooperative obviates the need for middlemen through direct interaction with the farmers. As a result, the farmers get a share of the benefits. Coconut oil is produced from copra.
Coconut husks are also used to produce coir. Coir has unmatched advantages: it is biodegradable, environment-friendly, helps retain the natural warmth of the body, is mothproof and resistant to fungi. Coir also provides insulation against heat and sound, is non-combustible, and easy to clean. The organic origin of coir conforms to the best environment-friendly standards.
The complete geo-textile coir bhoovasthra, which is now being used widely around the world, helps to prevent soil erosion. The sites of application vary from river banks and hill sides, to mine dumps and railway embankments.
Coirfed is the apex federation of 600-odd coir co-operatives based in the coir capital, Alappuzha. The federation provides gainful employment to 4 lakh people directly and to as many as 20 lakh people indirectly. A string of regional offices and national network of over 100 showrooms ensures that coir products are easily accessible to all. The fair pricing policy adopted by Coirfed has made coir products suitable for every pocket. A wide range of coir products are being exported to markets abroad.
Apart from its coconut and coir, Kerala is equally known for its spices. The state’s history is closely linked with its commerce. In the past, travellers around the world journeyed to this land for trade as well as to gain control over it. The first travellers were the Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs and the Chinese; latter day traders included the Portuguese, Dutch, French and the British. The spice trade dates back 3,000 years, and is believed to be the cause for Vasco da Gama’s quest for the Indian subcontinent.
Spices can be defined as farm products used in various forms-fresh, ripe, dried, broken and powdered. They provide aroma, taste, flavour, colour and pungency to food. Spices are well known as appetisers or preservatives and many of them have rich medicinal properties and are used in medicines, perfumes and cosmetics.