Being essentially a agricultural district, South Kanara has about 54.16 per cent of its working population dependent on land for its livelihood. Paddy is grown on an extensive scale all over the well-watered valleys and low-lying areas. Still the district is not yet self-sufficient in paddy and so it is brought from other districts. However, rice that came from the neighbouring districts was regularly exported through the ports of Kundapur, Hangarakatta and Mangalore to North Kanara, Bombay, Arabia and Zanzibar. Mangalore port was known for ever during exporting rice. History tells us of the Arab traders who carried vigorous trade with South Kanara. In subsequent centuries the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British Successively had their hold on the export trade in rice.
Sugarcane is another important agricultural crop. The main centres of manufacture of jaggery out of sugarcane are Kuloor, Ullal and Udupi. A speciality of Kundapuris is liquid jaggery. Besides the local jaggery, large quantities are imported from Shimoga and from the South for export from this district mainly to Porbander in Bombay. Palmyra jaggery is manufactured only in small quantities under licences granted by the Government. This kind of jaggery is mostly consumed within the district. Prominent areas where palmyrah jaggery is manufactured include Mangalore, Karkal and Puttur taluks.
The district is not strictly surplus in coconuts, yet small quantities are exported to the northern parts of the State. The oil produced from this is also not sufficient to meet local needs and imports are made from Cochin and Kozhikode. So far as the transactions in coconut oil are concerned the Cochin market is an index to the price regulation in Mangalore. Since most of the coconuts produced in the district are sold by the growers them selves in shandies and daily markets and through commission agents, and since the oil mills procure their requirements directly from the surplus areas, there is no appreciable trade in coconuts by way of export. But copra or dried coconut figures largely in the import and export pattern. There are some big dealers in this business in the district.
The bulk of the arecanut exported from Mangalore comes from Puttur taluk. The arecanut is sold by the growers themselves through commission agents who hold licences for the purpose and middlemen manage to get a slice out of the transactions. This arecanut for export comes in mixed sizes and grades. For export purposes, the nut has to be fumigated with sulphur and sorted into certain standard grades. The bulk of the transactions is on a consignment basis.
Next in importance to arecanut in the trade is cashew-nut, which is an important foreign exchange earner. American stock piling in the years 1949-52 was responsible for the huge profits fetched by cashew nut export. Cashew nut is one of the major commercial crops of the district, but the quantity produced is not sufficient to meet the requirements of the cashew nut factories at Mangalore and large quantities of raw cashew nut have to be imported from Africa, which, after being processed, are exported again from the district.
A broad break-up of the export figures shows that 80 per cent of the exports are sent to the U S A., 15 per cent to the United Kingdom and Europe and 5 per cent to Canada, Australia and other countries. In recent years, much effort is in evidence to promote the export of cashew kernels and other cashew products.
The Cashew and Pepper Export Promotion Council set up by the Government of India is taking up measure for the introduction of cashew trade in new countries. The industry is now days affected to some extent by foreign competition. Some factories established in East Africa show increased exports from year to year. During the year 1972-73, about 1,190 tonnes of cashew kernels were exported to Western and European countries. Apart from the export of processed cashew kernel, Mangalore exports annually about 1,200 tonnes of cashew oil to the United Kingdom, America and the European countries. Kudapur has a cargo-handling capacity of about 40,000 tonnes per year. Jaggery, cured fish, firewood, tiles and timber are mainly exported and groceries and grains, cloth, cutlery and hardware are imported.
Pepper is an important spice crop in the district. It can be grown as a mixed crop using arecanut palms as standards. Rooted cuttings at the rate of two per palm are planted at the base of each palm, about 30 to 35 cms away from the base. While planting, southern side of the palm may be avoided. As the peppervine grows it has to be trained to the palm. Cattle manure or compost at the rate of 8 kgs per vine is to be applied before the south-west monsoon. Ammonium sulphate, superphospahate and muriate of potash at the rate of 500 gms, one kg. and 100 gms respectively per vine may be applied in the month of August or September. The manures are applied around the vine to a depth of about 15cms, about 30 cms away from the base and mixed with soil by light forking. Pepper-vine commences yielding from the third year. There are various development schemes for the development of this crop in the district.
Spices have been important in human diet. India has, from ancient times, been regareded as the home of spices and is reputed for the most important spices like black pepper, cardamom, ginger, chillies and turmeric. Though these crops are cultivated on much smaller scales when compared to the food crops, still they constitute a sizeable share in the international trade earning foreign exchange. It is only in India that one can find all spices, in all about 35 items, including curry powder, a delicate blend of several spices of varying formulae for which India is specially renowned. The spices grown in the district are pepper, ginger, cardamom, clove, nutmeg and cinnamon.