Agriculture in Kerala is characterized by homestead farming. According to the agricultural census 2015-16, holding below 1 ha of land accounted for 96.7 per cent of the total number of landholdings.The average holding size of these marginal farmers is 0.13 ha. The comparison of the land-holding in Kerala in comparison with the other South-Indian States is as shown below:<>
Figure 1: Comparison of Agricultural Land Holding in South Indian States
It is evident, from the comparison above, that the needs of agriculture in Kerala are distinct from those in the neighbouring States. To understand the same, it is necessary to review the structure of a typical homestead and its key characteristics. The same is discussed below: Figure 2: Typical Characteristics of a Homestead
The homestead cultivation in Kerala represents an ecologically viable and sustainable model of agriculture. However, the economic viability of homestead production is impacted owing to the absence of structured farm services and market linkage. The conventional procurement and market linkage models defined for large volumes of a single produce is not suited for the homesteads providing small volumes of diverse produce. The impact of this on the self-sufficiency in agricultural production is clear with over 70% of the vegetable and fruit requirements of the State being catered through import from other States.
The Homestead Model of Agriculture in Kerala requires tailored models of farm services and market linkages suited for handling small volumes of diverse produce. Ensuring the economic viability of homestead production (to the small/ marginal farmer) and services (to agents/ service providers) can provide the much-required impetus for sustainable agriculture in Kerala.
As-is context of the coconut and coir sector in Kerala
The lack of tailored models for farm services and market linkages discussed above have also impacted the Coconut sector in Keralam, the land of the coconuts and the largest producer of coconuts in the country. Despite leading the nation in area under coconut cultivation (649,85,000 Ha) and production (7448 Million Coconuts per annum), it lags behind Tamil Nadu and Karnataka in production for commercial procurement.
The state-wise distribution has been given below:
Table 1: Coconut Cultivation and Production Statistics
The impact on the commercial procurement of coconut also has an impact on its associated sector – the Coir Sector. Traditionally a leader of the Coir sector, Kerala has been oblivious of the demand and potential of diversified Coir products. A Coir Board report on the “Status of Coir Industries in India” states that, as on 31st March 2015, Tamil Nadu caters to almost 90% of the Coir fiber requirements of Kerala.
“The Coir fibre sector in Kerala faces challenges owing to the lack of an efficient procurement model for husk procurement. The earlier differentiator of retted Coir fibre from Kerala is also currently diluted owing to the stringent pollution control norms on retting. The removal of the bottlenecks in procurement is a key priority area that would provide the necessary impetus for growth of the Coir sector in the State.”
The homestead is a functional/ operative and self-sustaining farm unit which consists of a conglomeration of crops and multi-purpose trees, planted arbitrarily, with or without animals/ poultry/ apiculture, owned and primarily managed by the dwelling farm family, with the objectives of satisfying the basic family needs (food, fuel and timber) and producing marketable surplus for the purchase of non-producible items.
 Agricultural Census 2015-16, Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, Government of India, 2018
 Kerala State Planning Board Report 2015
 As of 2014-15. Data from the website of the Coconut Development Board of India http://coconutboard.nic.in/stat.htm