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Going the Hawaiian Route

CoconutDuring the time of the last Queen of Hawaii in 1893, the island became one of the major exporters of sugar, producing about two hundred tonnes of sugar annually. It was big business, resulting in the import of workers from China, Japan, Korea and Philippines. As the labor costs began to rise, the businessmen started looking at other countries and soon sugar was imported from Cuba, Caribbean and Puerto Rico. Left with no other option to make money, the sugarcane plantations were converted to hotels and a tourism based economy was established in Hawaii.

What sugarcane was for Hawaii is what coconut is to Kerala. Till 1980, Kerala was the major producer of coconuts with about 80 – 85% share of the market. Now Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu produce coconuts and that too of high yielding variety available around the year. The price of coconut  is falling and with the removal of the duty on edible oils, the price is expected to fall down. In such a situation, some families have started providing Bread and Breakfast type accommodations in plantations to make a living.

The transformation of Kerala’s coconut plantations mirrors a shift taking place throughout rural India. As the national economy cracks open, once-isolated pockets of the country are suddenly being exposed both to global competition and also to new economic opportunities. For some farmers, that openness might mean better prices for pepper or rubber, while for other Indians, tougher times might prompt a shift into a new industry or a move to a nearby city.

In August, Johnny Tharakan opened three rooms of his home for guests. Mr. Tharakan charges around $150 a night to stay at Ayanat House, a two-story home built 70 years ago, including all meals. Mr. Tharakan and his wife, Rani, dine with the guests, pointing out the Kerala favorites of fresh red prawns and steamed cakes with coconut shavings.

The coconut industry “is dying,” says Mr. Tharakan. “It’s only a matter of time, and that time is not very far off.”

In Kerala, the coconut is only the latest example of using aging crops to harvest tourists. A decade ago, many of the state’s rubber plantations began offering homestays amid a slump in prices, while more recently, tea plantations have become B&Bs.[India’s Nuttiest Destination (WSJ subscription reqd)]

With tourism booming, Kerala is on the way to Hawaii and if we introduce Hartals in Hawaii it will be soon on the way to be Kerala.

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