On Srinagar Muzaffarabad Road just five kilometres ahead of border town Uri, the market is abuzz with activity. In the small market with 150 odd shops half are dealing in walnut kernels. The business activity will come to standstill by the end of November when all the kernels are being dispatched to outside Kashmir mandies, especially Delhi.
Here due to old links growers always prefer to send their produce to traders in New Delhi, despite the fact many among the traders are aware that big traders in Delhi exploit them by giving nominal rates of the high-quality wall nut.
At Lagama village outside the shops the kernels are spread on cloth and polythene sheets even some use house roofs for the purpose before being packed in boxes.
“Our business pattern is same what it was decades ago. Nothing new has been introduced into this business,” said 35-year-old, Owais Ahmad Khawaja whose father and grandfather has also been in this walnut business.
“Generations have passed but nothing changed for the walnut growers. In 2014, we used to fetch Rs 1300 to 1400 for a kilogram of walnut kernel. Now it has come down to half. It’s disgusting for all of us,’ says Khawja who usually dispatches 5000 to 6000 kilograms of walnut kernels outside the state annually. All the traders put their produce in a big truck everyday which is then dispatched to Delhi or any other state. This is our routine,” he said.
The views of Ahmad are being echoed by other traders almost every trader feel betrayed by the top businessmen and government…”This is only business in which rates are coming down. Ten years ago we used to fetch Rs 1200 for a kilogram of kernel now hardly we get Rs 700 to 800. This is very sad affair of our trade,” said Rashid Ahmad another trader adding that government could have taken initiative to setup proper mechanism for walnut.
Alas only statements are being issued. If they can spend crores on promotion of tourism why not one the walnut that sustains hundreds of families in border town.”
Walnut is one of the organic fruits grown in Kashmir especially in the country side, the trees could be found on the village peripheries and the courtyards. However, despite good production it’s the most unorganised sector in J&K. The experts say walnut has a potential that can bring good impact in the lives of people.
The traders and growers are aware that key of this trade is in the hands of big business men and exporters sitting outside UT. “The rates of kernel are always decided by traders sitting in Delhi. They buy from us at peanuts and then export the same and make good money,” said Auqib Ahmad another trader who frequently visits Delhi in connection with sale of walnut kernels.
Of the more than 95% of the land under organic fruit cultivation grows walnut which of late has even increased the production. Officials claim that under organic cultivation, 1.85 lakh tonne of fruit is produced in Kashmir and 85,000 tonne in the Jammu region and most of the produce is walnut. Anantnag and Kupwara top the state in walnut cultivation with 11,939 and 8,797 hectares under the fruit.
Over the past 40 years, the state has seen an astronomical rise in walnut production from 10,500 tonne to 2.7 lakh tonne in 2012.Kashmir produces 80% of country’s walnut and the kernels produced from Kashmiri walnuts are considered the world’s best kernels, which prove lucrative in the international market.
Even scientists at SKUAST are now working on selection of 25-30 varieties to produce new varieties of walnuts. Five varieties of walnuts, Suleman, Hamdan, Central Institute of Temperate Horticulture (CITH) 1, 2, 3 are produced in different parts of Kashmir and these new varieties could enhance the production. “Its the most unorganised sector and government also ignores it despite the facts hundreds of families earn their livelihood by selling walnut kernels. Unfortunately, to fill the 3 and 6 kilograms of boxes, we do everything manually,” said Mohammad Amin Chalkoo, a trader in Uri. “For the growers and commission agents it seems market isn’t promising. Since we dont know any other trade so we have to continue with this trade only,” he said adding that its irony not a single trader among us is exporting the produce directly. “We don’t have neither the money nor the support from the government,” said one of the prominent buyers in Uri.
Usually, every grower produces 50 to 100 kilograms of kernels every year which after initial drying they sell in the market. “Every day villagers come with their produce and we pay them in cash. At times people from neighbouring districts also bring their produce to this market due to its good trade reputation,” said Chalkoo while sitting at one of big shops where the kernels are carefully packed in boxes. “We hope there is turnaround in market on Diwali. The trade begins in August and ends in the first week November. We then close our shops to wait for another season,” he said.
Mursleen Baig, another aged trader said this trade hasn’t flourished due to lack of awareness among growers and the dealers. “In this modern age, our growers and dealers rely on aged old techniques. There should be special focus on walnut as an organic produce then only this will bring dividends for the growers.”
Another threat for walnut is now Chinese Walnut and its entry in the market has further caused damage to the market prospects.
A senior government officer said that J&K government can change the fate of the walnut trade only if they establish couple of latest packaging and crushing units in the Valley, especially in Uri…”Even if government takes marketing of kernel in its own hands’ things can change overnight. Other even after two decades this is going to be the same old story.”
While the government is turning blind eye towards the walnut trade but some youths are planning to introduce new techniques and social media to bring change in business pattern. “Hopefully, I am planning to sell kernels directly to people through an App which could be a game changer,” said Adeel Ahmad an M Com student with special liking for fruit and walnut trade.
The walnuts are sorted out manually by farmers and then crushed to take out kernels and then farmers sell the kernels to the traders in Uri or Kupwara. The traders after grading fill kernels in 3- and six-kilogram boxes. As per the traders every day one kernel trucks leaves Kashmir and business starts from August and ends in November.
For many the walnut is only way to sustain their livelihood, especially the marginal farmers who lives on the Line of Control. “For us walnut money is used for education, marriage and keeping the kitchen fire alive, especially when we don’t have access to much of the facilities,” said Abdul Rashid who lives at Hatlanga right on the LoC.