By Auqib Javeed | Kashmir Observer
Srinagar- Amid the ongoing anguish over the duty free Iranian apples in Indian markets, the walnut growers of Kashmir now fear to lose their margins to the imported walnuts from the US, Chile and especially China.
The market flooding of these imported walnuts has created concerns at a time when the Kashmiri growers are harvesting the crop.
Bahadur Khan, President of the Dry Fruit Association of Kashmir told Kashmir Observer that even if the government of India has levied import duty on shipments from Chile and other countries, it has still outclassed the Kashmiri walnuts.
“Five years ago we used to send over a thousand trucks of walnuts from the valley. However, this year we have sent only 500-600 trucks to different parts of the country,” Khan said.
He cited the quality of walnuts from other countries as a major reason for low demand of Kashmiri walnuts in the markets.
“The growers are anxious as the government is not serious in addressing the issues,” Khan alleged.
Government figures suggest the production of these walnuts is decreasing every year.
In the year 2017-18, 2.75 lakh metric tons of walnuts were exported from Kashmir. In 2018-19, 2.78 lakh were exported while 2.26 in 2019-2020, 2.58 in 2020-2021 and 2.67 in 2021-2022.
It may be noted, the walnuts from Kashmiri would be in good demand in both domestic and international markets, however Khan said they are now struggling to export the product in other parts of the world.
“Government has levied 5 percent of Goods and Services Tax (GST) on our products which dented our export service,” Khan told Kashmir Observer.
According to Jan Mohammmad, another trader from North Kashmir’s Baramulla district the production of the walnuts has considerably decreased this year due to “climate change”
“Unseasonal rainfall and a spike in temperature has hit the production. Even the walnuts we harvested are laying in Mandies as the demand is low,” Jan Mohammad told Kashmir Observer.
The Horticulture sector plays an important role in the Union Territory and contributes significantly to the UT’s economy.
According to government figures, horticulture is a source of livelihood for 33 lac population. About seven lakh families are directly or indirectly involved and depend on this sector.
The UT has been declared as an Agri Export Zone for Apples and Walnut. The total area under dry fruit cultivation is 51,576 hectares.
The growers produce three varieties of walnuts in the Valley, locally known as Wonth, Kagazi, and Burzul. The Wonth is a hard nut to crack.
Most of the walnut trees in the Valley are centuries-old and the growers don’t use any fertilisers for the trees. The trees grow to a height of 10-20 feet and the growers usually face causalities while harvesting.
The Valley witnesses a number of deaths and injuries every year during walnut harvest season. Most of the growers are from poor families.
North Kashmir’s Kupwara is the largest walnut-growing region in Kashmir, while other districts that produce walnuts include Shopian, Baramulla, Budgam, Bandipora and Pulwama.
Khan told Kashmir Observer that even though the quality and quantity of the walnuts from other parts of the world is huge, the walnuts from Kashmir are organic and without any fertilisers.
He further added that only two varieties are being sold outside— Kagazi and Burzul while Wonth is being sold and eaten by locals.
High quality walnut (Kagazi, and Burzul) is being sold at Rs 250 per kilogram while the Wonth is being sold at Rs 40 per kilogram
Jan Mohammad said that the Kashmir Valley lacks space for dry fruits as a result the growers are not getting reasonable prices for the walnuts in the market.
“Unlike Apples, Walnuts don’t have any Mandis in the Valley so that we could store our product and sell it on when the demand is high,” Jan Mohammad added.
However, Khan said there is one Mandi in north Kashmir’s Kupwara but they need more.
India’s main walnut-producing state is Kashmir which accounts for 90% of the country’s walnut production.
Ghulam Rasool Mir, Director Horticulture, Kashmir told Kashmir Observer that the government has taken several initiatives to help the walnut growers of the Valley.
“We are providing walnut nurseries with a subsidy of Rs 7 lakh,” Mir said.
Acknowledging that in traditional walnut trees, the region is facing a lot of problems, Mohammad Amin, another official who is posted at the office of Director Horticulture; Srinagar said difficulties in harvesting and less production are the two main issues of traditional walnut trees
Amin said that the government has rolled-out the scheme of providing high-density walnut trees that produce crop within three years of its plantation.
“The farmers can grow 300 walnut trees per hectare instead of 100 trees per hectare with high-density walnut trees” Amin said, adding “Apart from that we can manage canopy in-order to avoid casualties while harvesting,”
Fruit Growers Protest Against Halting of Fruit-laden Trucks
Fruit growers on Wednesday staged a peaceful protest demonstration inside fruit mandi Sopore in Baramulla district against halting of fruit laden trucks along Srinagar- Jammu national highway.
Reports said that the fruit growers were demanding smooth movement of fruit laden trucks along the national highway.
President Fruit Mandi Sopore, Fayaz Ahmed Malik said that they have already suffered heavy losses during the last several years due to natural calamities and continued blockage of the National Highway and now unnecessarily stopping of fruit-laden trucks are compounding to their miseries.
He alleged that the authorities are unnecessarily stopping trucks and it seems they deliberately want them to suffer.
Notably, trucks were earlier stopped in view of the Amarnath Yatra, however, following protests and several representations, LG Sinha passed directions to the concerned not to stop the fruit laden trucks along NH-44.