Valley traders concerned as Californian walnuts conquer India’s retail market

Valley traders concerned as Californian walnuts conquer India’s retail market

PULWAMA: Muhammad Ramzan Bhat (65) of Arihal, Pulwama in south Kashmir has spent four decades in  the walnut trade.
Every autumn, he camps for a month at Eidgah in Arihal, where tons of fresh walnuts are processed manually before being dispatched to the markets outside the state.
Ramzan has no qualms in letting anyone see his hands stained due to his uncovering of fresh, green walnuts. But he says his family isn’t happy, while he himself has started to be concerned about his future.
“This trade isn’t getting us good returns. We put in a lot of effort, but the returns are declining with each passing year. That is the reason my family isn’t happy about what I am doing,” he says.
“My family feels that I shouldn’t get my hands spoiled for little returns. They want me to switch to some other profession,” he says.
Like Ramzan, most people involved in processing of walnuts are worried about their future. In the recent years, the walnuts imported from California have steadily replaced Kashmiri variety of the dry fruit from the retail market in India; the former has already become customers’ preferred choice.
According to Ramzan, all the hard work put in by the growers and traders in taking the walnuts from fields to the markets is proving worthless.
“Allowing import of walnuts from California and other parts of America is surely denting our trade. It is becoming increasingly difficult for us to sell the walnuts grown and processed in Kashmir,” he says.
Earlier, the traders say, Jammu-based dealers “exploited” the growers.
“They used to purchase our produce at very low rates, and sell the same at high prices to customers. When that exploitation has almost ended, we are facing the threat of imports from California,” Mohammad Shafi, who is also involved in walnut processing, says.
Shafi says the walnut sector in Kashmir Valley is “poorly organised”, with only a few processing units and no exclusive market available to the traders. And, he says, the absence of infrastructure and supervision gives middlemen a freehand to exploit the growers and traders.
“In fact, many kernel-extraction units too don’t support the growers; they pay us very less for the produce,” he says, adding the prices of walnuts have remained “almost static” over the years while that of the other dry fruits have increased manifold.
“We produce best quality walnuts, without use of pesticides and other farm chemicals. If the import from California isn’t restricted, the walnuts produced in Kashmir will meet the same fate as that of the almonds’,” Shafi says.