Land reform and trade liberalisation played a major role in the shift in cropping pattern
Around the 1970s, the state started implementing the Kerala Land Reforms Act of 1967.The Act put a ceiling of 6 ha on the land a person can own, but exempted plantations. This prompted many to convert their land to plantations. Many paddy farmers started growing coconut on their fields, which were later converted into rubber plantations.
State agriculture data shows since the 1970s, farmers’ withdrawal from rice cultivation has increased.In the last four decades, area under paddy has reduced by 76 per cent—from 875,000 ha in 1970 to 208,000 ha in 2012.
The crisis worsened with the introduction of the liberalisation policies in the 1990s. The initial few years after India’s entry into the World Trade Organization (wto) in 1995 as a signatory to the WorldTrade Agreement, saw a phenomenal increase in export prices of many plantation crops. Leaders of the Kerala Congress, including the state’s present Finance Minister K M Mani, praised the Centre’s neoliberal polices. But the heat of the global competition was felt within a few years—rubber price started sliding for the first time in 1997 following large-scale import of cheap natural rubber. Other cash crops in which Kerala has a substantial stake, namely, tea, coffee, rubber and cardamom, a lso had to compete with low-cost imports.
The Land Reforms Act put a ceiling of 6 hectares on the land a person can own, but exempted plantations from it. Many people took advantage of this leeway and converted their farms into plantations