This region has special personality due to the picturesque variety of landscape and profusion of tropical crops. Kerala is the third most densely populated state in India according to 2011 census. The state also earns the credit of having the highest percentage of literacy, low decennial growth rate of population and highest sex ratio.
There is a diversity in landscape. A continuous line of cliffs of the Western Ghats broken at the Palghat Gap rises abruptly on its eastern flank. To the north of the Palghat Gap, is a west- facing steep scarp varying in height from 900 to 1825 metres; to the south of the Palghat Gap there are the Anaimalai and the Cardamom hills.
The Ghats consist of highly foliated gneisses and schists with columnar jointing. Sheety structure of these rocks favours the flaking off of individual sheets leaving behind sheer cliffs. The general height of these mountains varies from 600 to 1200 metre, Anai the highest peak having height of 2695 metre. The Cardamom hills are round in appearance at the top.
A narrow coastal plain situated at the foot of the hills runs along the coast having a width of 24 to 96 km. Thus, river valleys alternating spurs, give this plain an undulating character.
There is dense mangrove forest in the deltas region. To the east of the low mud banks, is a narrow strip of lowland covered with sandy alluvium.
This alluvial lowland is full of lakes and lagoons (Kayals) which are connected with each other by canals. The lagoons popularly called backwaters, though irregular in shape, run parallel to the coast. Numerous streams empty themselves into these lagoons. These lagoons drain into the sea through indentation cut across the mud banks. Large-sized lagoons have fertile alluvial and they run for many kilometres along the coast.
The climate is hot tropical type. In the lowlands the mean monthly temperature remains in the neighbourhood of 26.7°C throughout the year. The mean of the maximum temperature in May is 32.2°C. And the mean of the minimum temperature recorded in December and January is 21.1°C.
There appears a dark thick clouds of the south-west monsoon during the months from the beginning of June to the end of September in coastal plain. In their attempt to cross the high Western Ghats the clouds rise and give heavy rainfall and droughts do not occur.
The inflow of a lot of moisture from sea causes March, April and May a sultry months. Thunder showers in the afternoon are common and they bring great relief to tea and other plantation crops.
There is luxuriant tropical monsoon rain forest in lowland due to heavy rainfall and high temperature. Tropical wet evergreen forest has a thick tangled under-growth of climbers and epiphytes. In the hills, rubber, tea wattle and coffee have been introduced.
Teak and rosewood plantations are a valuable source of timber in the hill. Forest covers 28 percent of the surface of this State. Teak, rosewood and mahogany are extracted from these forests for export.
Kerala is around with large variety of agricultural produce. In the coastal plain, cultivated crops namely rice, tapioca, sugarcane and plantations of coconut and arecanut with undergrowth of pepper creepers dominate. In the up-land areas rubber, tea, coffee, teak and cashew-nut plantations with climbing pepper vines and cardamom are prominent.
Rice a dominant crop covering 30 percent of total cropped area. About 11 percent of the total net sown is irrigated. Vegetables covers about 11.4 per cent the of the total area.
Tapioca serves as food for poor people. Copra, banana, fish and jack-fruit form an important part of the diet of the people.
Rice is cultivated favourably in the warm wet alluvial soil of the coastal lowlands. It is grown particularly in the river valleys and deltas. There are three copping seasons for rice in Kerala.
Of the total rice produced in Kerala, about 52 percent is produced during the rainy season (autumn crop), 38 percent during the winter months and only 10 percent during the summer season (sown in November and December and harvested in February and March).
Coconut and other plantation crops are more remunerative than rice per unit area. In view of the high profitability of these cash crops, they are preferred to rice wherever possible. Cottage industries are based on coconut.
Kerala is a important coconut producing region of India. Kerala produces nearly two-thirds of total coconut produced in India. Light well-drained soils near the coast and along the fringes of the backwaters are particularly found suitable for raising coconut. The banks of the rivers canals are used for coconut production.
The industries are engaged in the extraction of oil from copra, production of coir from the husks after retting them for 6 to 10 months in the saline water of lagoons. Mats and ropes are made from fibres of coconut. Arecanut a cash crop is grown on light sandy alluvial soils.
India dominates world in supply of cashewnut. The U.S.A. is the chief buyer of this farm product. Kerala is the chief producer of cashew kernels in the uplands in India.
The factories engaged in the processing and packing of cashew kernels are scattered throughout Kerala. They are, concentrated at Quilon which is the principal collecting centre of cashew-nut. India also imports raw cashew-nut from the countries of East Africa for processing and exporting it to other countries.
This is a valuable cash crop. The pepper plant is a creeper which is allowed to climb trees such as mango, jack-fruit, arecanut, etc. It is cultivated on the coastal plain as well as in the neigbouring hills up to a height of 915 metres as a garden crop by most of the homesteads. This region is a major producer of pepper and accounts for about 75 percent of the total pepper produced in the country. Cannanore is the leading pepper producing district of Kerala.
Cardamom and clove:
They are grown mainly on the upland areas. Cardamom prefers shady and relatively cool areas of height above 760 metres above sea-level where evergreen forest can grow. Cardamom is cultivated mainly in Idukki and Kottayam districts. The region accounts for about 40 percent of the total cardamom produced in India.
Some amount of tea and coffee are also grown in the region. Rubber is also an important crop of this region. Rubber seedlings were first introduced in India in 1873. Well drained alluvial soils a height of 305 metres above sea-level are selected for rubber cultivation. Kerala is the leading rubber producing state in India. About 360,000 hectares were under rubber in Kerala in 1988-99.
It produces about 92 percent of the total rubber produced in the country. India produces enough rubber for her requirements. Tea and coffee are raised at altitudes varying 760 metres to about 1,520 metres above sea-level. Tea is produced mainly in Kottayam district and coffee in Kozhikode district.
Lemongrass is cash crop. It is used in perfumery, in the preparation of vitamins and mosquito repellent creams.
There are lakes’ lagoons and a number of rivers in Kerala They provide inland fisheries. Near the coast the continental shelf is shallow and consequently forms rich and extensive fishing ground. Numerous species of fish are caught from the sea. They are mackerel, soles, silver belties, shellfish, catfish, etc.
Lagoons and coastal waters are the habitats of shellfish. Species of shellfish which abound in these waters are prawn, shrimps and lobsters. The main fishing season in Kerala coincides with the summer monsoon rainy season (June to September). Frozen shrimps and lobsters are now exported from Cochin.
The backwater fisheries of this region are equally significant. Prawan and other fish enter the backwaters for spawning. As the backwaters are connected with the sea, the tidal inflow of sea-water makes it possible for the fish to enter the backwaters and lagoons, etc. providing the source of regular supply of prawns.
The peak prawn fishing season coincides with summer monsoon season. They are the important source of food item of the people. This State accounts for nearly 30 percent of the total marine catch in India. Shark-liver oil very rich in vitamins A and D is produced at Cochin and a few other places of the region.
The hydro-electric power is in abundance due to heavy rainfall and slopy land surface. Power plant has been developed .on the Periyar and its tributaries in the Cardamom hills. The Pamba, the Panniar and the Sholayar River have been used for water power. Idukki and Quilon in southern Kerala are important.
There is concentration of industries in south because power has been developed in the southern half of Kerala State. Cotton handloom industry is, common in North Kerala.
Agro-industries mainly on cottage scale are important. They include extraction of oil from copra and lemongrass, making of coir products such as yarn, ropes and door mats and processing of cashew kernels. Manufacture of aluminum and separation of monazite are only mineral based industries.
The tiles popularly called ‘Mangalore Tiles’ are exported to south-east Asian countries. A variety of potteries, insulating materials plant and electrical goods are manufactured by government owned ceramic works located at Kundara.
Alleppey, a commercial town called the ‘Venice of India’ is the biggest weaving and exporting centre of coir. Door mats are also manufactured on a large scale at Alleppey. Port facilities have favoured the localization of coir industry at this town. A crude oil-refinery has been set up at Cochin of this region.
Alumina brought from Muri (Jharkhand) is reduced to pure aluminum at Alway with the help of cheap water power from Pallivasal power house. A zinc smelter has also been established.