Mohammad Yousuf Kakroo, 60, a walnut grower in the busy market of Lagama in north Kashmir’s Uri, is hopeful to supply a good quantity of walnut produce to other states this year.
“Last year it was COVID scare, but since the vaccine has been made available, we have taken a sigh of relief,” he told Indiatimes.
“This year, we are expecting that all the walnut shops will remain open fully and able to do business normally so as to meet the losses suffered so far,” he said.
For over a century, Uri boasts of the Lagama market where India’s finest walnut kernels are sold. Located few kilometers away from the Line of Control (LoC), Lagama is located on Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road in Uri sector and occupies a very important position in the current history for being India’s main contributor of walnut production and also of its Kashmiri Pandit population.
Kakroo said that a lot of stock has piled up in the shops due to its non-transportation last year.
“We were only able to transport 3,000 kgs of kernels but earlier we used to sell up to 10,000 kgs,” he said.
It is pertinent to mention here that the Lagama market opens only for two month when traders and growers sell their kernels. It opens at the end of August till October. Those days’ growers can be seen usually working during the night hours and getting their stock packed in the trucks to be dispatched outside the valley.
Shabir Ahmad Bhat, another grower from Garkote village of Uri said that Goods and Services Tax (GST) has ruined their business.
“Whatever we are earning has to pay it as GST. Whenever we supply the stock to the trader to sell it further, we have to pay him with the GST amount first,” he said, adding there are dozens of families in the area who are totally dependent on the business.
Traders in Uri employ daily-wage labourers for plucking walnuts that are to be cleaned to be sold. “Due to a lockdown, no labourer came forward. Those who did, demand a heavy price,” said Mohammad Amin Chalkoo, a trader.
“Few years back we used to pay Rs 500 per day to a labourer to pluck the walnuts; now they are charging Rs 1,000 or more. If there is a delay in plucking the walnuts it naturally leads to drop in the prices,” he said.
Walnuts from Uri are transported to Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, especially around Diwali. There are 25 wholesale traders in Lagama and over 60 local sellers.
Article 370 abrogation worsened the situation
The post August 5, 2019, has worsened the situation for the traders. “Lagama used to do the turnover business of Rs 10-20 crore or more before Article 370 issue but now we have been facing losses in crores,” he said.
“The condition is so bad that we are unable to pay the debit taken from the banks to run our businesses,” he said.
Almonds Production Too Suffers
Almonds, a top dry fruit that grows in valley and Kashmir has won great reputation. Kashmir Almonds are often referred to as ‘King of Fruits’. They are smaller in size as compared to California almonds.
Owing to the climate of Kashmir, where the temperature does not exceed 32 degrees, the Kashmiri Almonds are very sweet. They have 42% oil content in them. Interestingly, Kashmir also has the historic almond garden called Badamwari, on the foothills of historic Kohe-Maran in Srinagar and holds much significance as it heralds the arrival of spring in Kashmir.
In the valley, central Kashmir’s Budgam district is considered to produce the highest quantity of almonds. “Though the production continues to be good but inability to supply the orders has affected the business,” says Mohammad Shafi, a walnut grower.
He said, “Post August 5 situation and then COVID lockdown has played a spoilsports with our business. The government too has not helped us. Everything has been shut here since 2019. Businesses open here partially and with a risk. We have even been unable to send the stock to the local traders too,” he says.
Another grower Hameed Ahmad from Budgam said that weather has also impacted its growth.
“Untimely rains and snow kill its production,” he said adding, “The almonds are also brought from places like California and other countries to Kashmir which has caused a dip in the price and its sale.”
Mohd Aslam who runs a dry fruit shop in Maharaja Bazar of Srinagar hoped that things will turn normal soon.
“If there is a relaxation in the curfew, the businesses will run smoothly again and we will be able to reach out to our customers,” he said.
“Kashmir’s own dry fruits, be it walnut, almonds or others, will continue to tickle the taste buds of outsiders as usual,” he said and signed off.