Kashmir’s walnut industry: Challenges holding us back

J&K contributes about 98 percent of the total walnut exports from India. The major export destinations include France, Netherlands, UK, Germany and UAE. In the year 2015-2016, India exported 3,292mt to the world for the worth of Rs 117.92 crores while in 2016-2017 exports were 2191mt worth Rs 55.27 crores or $8.27 millions
Kashmir’s walnut industry: Challenges holding us back
GK Photo

Jammu and Kashmir is the major walnut producing state with production of around 2.66 lakh metric tonnes on 89,000 hectares of land and contributes to more than 98 percent of the total walnut production in India. While processing of some of the produce happens in the state, majority is exported unprocessed. Our state contributes to about 98 percent of the walnut exports from the country. The major export destinations include France, Netherlands, UK, Germany, UAE and some other countries. In the year 2015-2016, India exported 3,292mt to the world for the worth of Rs 117.92 crores while in 2016-2017 exports were 2191mt worth Rs 55.27 crores or $8.27 millions.

Being organic in nature (which is its USP), as no fertilisers or sparys are used on walnut  plants and its yield, and high in nutrients with immense health benefits, Kashmiri walnut has seen growing demand and acceptability in the domestic and international market. However, production is decreasing day-by-day. The purpose of this article is to highlight some major challenges J&K's walnut industry is facing.

Firstly, there is increase in demand of Kashmir walnut in the domestic and international markets but the production is decrasing.  There are many factors responsible for it. There is shortage of quality planting, poor orchard management and long gestation period. A typical walnut tree in Kashmir takes about 13-15 years to fetch the first crop. We really need to bring more areas under walnut cultivation with high yielding varieties. Sick orchards need to be rejuvenated. The need of the hour is to encourage fresh walnut plantation, on the pattern of the apple plantation. Farmers must be provided good quality grafted plants.  We do not have orchards for specific varieties of walnuts. We have uneven yield for the crop and our produce is of variable size and quality due to which it is not competitive in the market. Techniques like grafting could give us a uniform type of walnut and contribute a lot to overcoming this problem but the farmers aren't putting it to practice. There is lack of infrastructure like transport, power supply, roads, mandis and packaging and processing facilities. It is felt that modern grading and packing houses need to be established near the farms. Also, low density per unit area and climatic fluctuations  are responsible for low productivity.  Moreover, there have been complaints of pest attacks and diseases which has also affected the productivity. The government, especially the horticulture ministry has to play role in educating the farmers and equiping them with the latest technology and infrastructure. Agricuture university and other research institutes can really play a substantial role in the process. Farmers have to be provided technical assistance right from planting to harvesting. Irrigation facilities need to be provided sufficiently. Also, we need to develop cost effective technology for the purpose.

Secondly, the harvesting and the post harvest methods used by the farmers are primitive, resulting in reduced productivity and quality of the crop. Be it harvesting (please not that timely harvesting is important), washing, drying, storage, transportation, we severely lack the infrastructure needed to increase the productivity and quality at farm and industrial level. Primitive washing methods for example impacts the quality of kernels badly and there is breakage, which results in wastage. Moreover, there is lack of awareness when it comes to sanitary conditions for walnut handling. It is worth mentioning that reduced quality means reduced market value and less acceptance of the product in the market. Postharvest management and also the handling, processing and packaging has to be carried out in a scientific manner. It holds the same importance for the processors and packers at industrial level.

Let's do a brief comparison with Californian and Chilean walnut industry. We must not forget that the California walnut industry is made up of over 4,000 walnut growers and 93 walnut handlers and processors, with highly sophisticated processing plants and technology and also efficient supply chain management, which favour them when it comes to marketing the product. Here in Kashmir, we lack the technology part and also have geographical disadvantage . So, to be in the competition, we have to take the required steps. Taking a look at Chiles walnut produce, the kernels have bright colour and are free of bitter taste, with long shelf life.  There are more than 2000 walnut growers in Chile, having total plantation area of 40,000 hectares that is increasing by 2,500 hectares every year. Production volume is also increasing by 15-20% annually. Currently Chilean walnuts are mainly exported to European and Middle East countries but their focus is on moving to Asia as well, while our industry is moving at snail's pace. In J&K, we are not adopting international standards when it comes to grading, processing and packing.

Thirdly,  due to lack of export oriented policies of the government, the exports  have not grown much. Though, India shares 20 percent of the European market but there is intense competition from California, Mexico, Chile and China. However at domestic level, our main competitors are California and Chile. The unregulated imports, without quantitative restrictions from California  and Chile has hit the local industry badly. So both the import and export policies need should the local walnut industry to avoid further losses. The central government should address the issue at a higher level. There should be an increase in the import duty of American walnut kernels especially. Entrepreneurs are not being encouraged to carry out this trade. On the contrary, due to the negative factors, many of them have left this trade and opted for other businesses. Some of them are even moving abroad for better opportunities.

Though the prevailing corruption in our state, political instability and several other factors are also equally responsible for the tepid industrial growth and sufferings of the people associated with this trade, I believe we could always do our part and what is within our control.  It is really hoped that against all odds, we will be able to save the industry from further losses.

Author is an MBA from Pune University and owns a walnut processing and packaging unit

 hakimajaz2013@gmail.com

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