Srinagar: As the organic food consciousness is witnessing a growth across the world, many Kashmiri farmers are trying their luck in the market by exporting the best indigenous products like honey, for which Kashmir is popular.
Noor Muhammad Bhat, 43, from Kamla village of Buchoo Tral, who started as a simple beekeeper soon after passing out of high school, never looked back.
Bhat has now established his company of organic food products under the brand name Valley Al-Asal, which literally translates to pure.
While discussing his journey from being a small beekeeper to exporting multiple organic products, Bhat says that he inherited his bee-keeping skills from his parents.
“In 1990s, I started helping my parents with the usual beekeeping. In the early 2000s, I started scientific organic beekeeping and tried to analyse the market. It was the time when the bee farmers didn’t get much value for products. I started my own marketing and also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a Punjab-based company to export honey for the next 10 years,” he says.
After a decade of work with an outside company, Bhat started his own manual packaging unit in 2012 under the company called Valley Apiaries and Food Products with the brand name Valley Al-Asal.
“Soon, I started supplying honey in the domestic market, and I did not stop there. In addition to selling 18 types of honey, I also started packaging and supplying dry fruits like walnuts and almonds. Later, I added saffron, organic pulses, chillies, desi ghee, and other products,” he says.
Bhat says that it was not possible single-handedly and he wanted to give opportunity to other farmers and he roped in other farmers as well.
“In addition to training hundreds of beekeepers in Kashmir, I have over 250 bee farmers working with me. For the supply of saffron, walnuts, organic pulses, chilli, desi ghee, and other products like Kehwa spice mix, I have roped in dozens of women from different villages of Kashmir. To ensure that all the honey and other products are up to the mark, I do all the necessary quality checking,” he says.
Bhat says that the unique selling point of his products is that it is purely organic and all the government-made standards are kept intact with necessary quality checking. He says that the honey of different floras, which include white honey and Solie, are very popular.
Bhat says that it is produced by the bees from forests, followed by acacia honey which is derived from the nectar of the Robinia pseudo-acacia flower, commonly known as the black locust or false acacia tree.
He also makes black forest and multi-flora honey, mustard honey, black chest honey, apple honey, and lavender honey.
“I am adding new products in the chain, like garlic and indigenous rice varieties in Kashmir. In a new initiative, I have invited new unit holders who sell any product so that they can collaborate with me, and I will do the marketing,” Bhat says.
He says that his products are being sent all over the country, and now he is focusing on selling them abroad.
“We have many upcoming international exhibitions where I will showcase my products. I have also put my products on Flipkart, India Mart, and all the local and non-local malls across India,” Bhat says.
About future plans, Bhat says that he would introduce new products like jams, which will be honey-based for diabetic patients.
“With the support of each farmer, I am trying to expand the business for the mutual benefit of all farmers. There are many challenges like the use of pesticides in farming which affects the products. We have problems with logistics too. Due to the closure of the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway, the bee farmers face losses as bees die in the transit,” he says.
Bhat says that Kashmir is blessed with great natural food products, and youth should capitalise on that.
He says that his decade-long work was bearing fruit and recently the visiting G20 delegates appreciated his products.