When the British drew up a chart of crops cultivated in the Malabar

(A weekly column on the region’s past culled from historical documents)

‘Taking stock’ was crucial to the British. They took stock of all aspects of our livelihood — the crops we grew, the stuff we imported and exported, the plants that could yield them profits – all. Many documents in the Archives deal with the extensive research the British did, especially on articles that could bring them huge gains in the market.

A letter written by the then Collector of Malabar, F. Clementson in 1835 draws up another interesting data on the crops grown in 19th century Malabar. The potential of many were unexplored by the farmers, he says. Clementson’s letter springs up in response to a set of queries dispatched from two higher authorities — the Governor in Council and the Secretary to the Government.

Clementson draws up an elaborate account of the crops cultivated in the Malabar. The first crop he mentions is cotton. “This valuable article is but partially cultivated in Malabar,” he writes. The regions where it was grown at least to some extent, he writes, were “Caway, Cherikul and Kotiote and then only along with paddy and other species of dry grain.” It is the yield that draws the attention of the British. Clementson says the weight of a pod cannot be forecast now and adds, “But the probable average may be stated at 30 grains and the proportion of wool to seed one third.”

Not yet a favourite

From Clementson’s letter one gathers that cotton cultivation was not taken seriously by the farmers of Malabar. Rather, they remained oblivious to its commercial value. He writes, “Although the hill cotton of Malabar is considered to be good quality, no pains appear to be taken by the cultivators in gathering and cleaning it.” Nevertheless, cotton was a prized property in the market and Clementson hopes better sense will dawn on the Malabar farmers. “It is not improbable that the Ryots of this district will ere long become sensible of the advantage of not only extending the cultivation by adopting improved methods of gathering and cleaning it,” he writes. There was also an advantage Malabar farmers had when compared to those of the other districts. Clementson elaborates, “Under the existing nature of the assessment of Malabar they will have to pay no tax for land which may be cultivated with this article.”

Another article that finds mention in the update is turmeric. Again Clementson hints at the casual approach to its cultivation. “Turmeric is grown in small quantities by most of the inland inhabitants on the district in their gardens and waste lands, without any particular reference to soil,” he adds. Even in poor soil, turmeric, he writes, will grow well if it got the desired manure of cow dung and dry leaves.

“In the four talooks of Shernad, Ernad, Calicut and Cormenaad, where it is largely cultivated it seemed to flourish without any such attention,” he says in the letter. With the soil considered conducive for cultivation, Clementson also sends to the superiors a sample of it along with a specimen of the produce.

When it comes to cattle, he says the “porous character of the soil in a great measure accounts for the entire want of pasture lands throughout this district.” According to him, the jungles are the only source of nourishment for them.

Sandalwood, he says, “is only found in a jungle adjoining a village in the Neelgherry Talook called Davaroyapatanom besides a few trees in Wynaad.” Sandalwood grew spontaneously in the Malabar and attempts had never been made to cultivate it systematically. The extent of research done by the Collector is evident when he writes, “There are at present 600 full grown trees which if cut would give about 24 candies of 640 lbs each – the expense attending the removal of the wood to the coast would be about Rupees 45 per candy.”

Then he mentions sappanwood that is not planted anywhere in the district regularly. He says it is “dispersed throughout in garden” owing to the belief that it exercises a good influence on other trees and shrubs. “The quantity used in the district is very small so that almost all that is cut here is exported,” he writes. According to him, “there are wastelands and hills in the interiors which seem well adapted for the healthful growth of this tree.” He forwards a specimen of this wood too.

He also reports that “coffee is not cultivated extensively in this district. Indeed there are but two or three places where it can be said to be so at all.”

Clementson writes, “Beyond a few shrubs here and there in private compounds at Anjara kandy and Wynaad, under the direct supervision of Europeans, it has been planted and seems to thrive very well though there does not appear to be any difference between the character of the soil in these places and the rest of Malabar.” He suggests coffee cultivation be carried out throughout the district. He also sends forth specimens of the berry and the soil.

(Source: Regional Archives Kozhikode)

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