Monday 11 August 2014

Community Development and Tourism in Kerala, India

We drifted quietly through the coastal backwaters of Kerala. The sunlight casts a golden glow that illuminates both the silken water and the riverbank carpeted in a moss of tropical undergrowth. High reaching palm trees overlook over us and soft pillows of water hyacinths drift beside the boat. I feel a deep sense of tranquillity and a spark of inherent curiosity.

My pre-trip reading described Kerala as ‘The Model of Development’ (Parayil, 2000).  It is a state in India which has, in three decades, thrived and developed to bypass all expectations and exemplify that even in the absence of globalisation, industrialisation and westernisation, a Third World country is able to rise beyond all expectation and become an iconic paradigm of successive development.

We disembark at a rubber plantation and we hike together as a group; passing lines of pale, spindly trees affixed with modest sized coconut bowls that collect the milky liquid form of rubber. Kerala accounts for 92% of rubber exports in India. The extensive plantation belt in Kerala has created an emerging market known as homestay tourism.

Homestay tourism is where travellers are invited to experience staying in community homes. Situated away from bustling urban hubs and resort style hotels, travellers are given the opportunity to live amongst the agricultural workers, thus providing invaluable insight into rural living and cross cultural exchange. Eco-tourism companies such as ‘Stay Homz’ have tapped into this market, describing their ethos as providing an “in depth holiday experience for the intrepid traveller”. 

For primary production, the shell of the coconut has also resulted in increased community development in Kerala through initiatives such as selling craftwork in local tourist markets. The husk of the coconut is broken down into tough filaments and weaved into products such as door mats, ropes and fishing nets. 

As part of our Development Geography fieldwork project, we were also given the opportunity to interview Kudumbarees: A women’s self help/community based project. The project implemented strategies to tackle development issues through micro-enterprising, training and providing low interest loans. Our visit to the Jeevan Kudumbashree in Kannakara proved very valuable as it gave firsthand experience into how the Kudumbashree’s play a critical role in addressing the problem of under-represented women in the community.  The availability of microfinance loans to rural groups invoked entrepreneurial qualities to women, as the credit was used to fund small scale businesses producing goods such as incense sticks, coir and soap powder. This community production ties hand in hand with tourism as the Kudumbashrees were able to supply the goods on demand to hotels in Kerala.

Overall, despite the unprecedented boom in tourism, Kerala still maintains its sense of cultural and community identity. Commonly referred to as ‘God’s Paradise’, sustainable tourism has benefited the economic development of the region. More importantly, the cultural integrity of the local people has been maintained through community tourism initiatives such as home stays, plantation tours and skilled craftwork production.

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