The multiple drivers of homegarden decline in Kerala, Indiawca2014-1459 Thomas A. Fox 1,*Jeanine Rhemtulla 1Corey Lesk 1T.K. Kunhamu 2Navin Ramankutty 1 1Geography, McGill University, Montreal, Canada, 2Silviculture & Agroforestry, Kerala Agricultural University, Vellanikkara, India
Homegardens are a long-established and important land use in Kerala, India. These highly diverse agroforests are found in concurrence with rural smallholdings, and are estimated to constitute roughly 25% of the state’s total land cover, and 50% of agricultural land. While these systems have received a disproportionately small amount of scientific attention, they are widely considered to be model ecosystems that meet human needs while preserving ecosystem integrity. However, recent accounts have suggested that homegardens are being threatened by more economically enticing land uses (e.g. cash-crop plantations). The purpose of this study was to verify the aforementioned hypothesis by determining whether or not smallholding agriculture is losing importance in Kerala, and identifying the drivers of these changes. Semi-structured interviews were conducted between June and November 2013 with land owners at 115 randomly selected rural homesteads in 8 of Kerala’s 14 districts. The objective was to gain a broad understanding of recent land use changes by: (i) setting the demographic context; (ii) determining the relative importance of major land uses over the last 10 years; (iii) understanding farmers’ land use preferences and the reasons for any changes that may have occurred. Overall, our study found that landholders are becoming less dependent on their homegardens for both subsistence and commercial agriculture. Over the past 10 years there have been declines in the production of food crops, cash crops, spices, timber and livestock. Farmers identified increasing labour costs as the primary driver behind decisions to reduce reliance on agriculture. However, other commonly cited causes included unreliable climate, low returns on investment, and increased prevalence of pests and disease. Thus, while homegardens are declining in importance, it is not due to preference for cash-crops, but rather a cocktail of environmental, socioeconomic and political circumstances that have combined to make farming less appealing to smallholders.