The walnuts grown in Jammu and Kashmir enjoyed strong demand in the recent past, both in the national and international markets. However, after walnuts from California, Chile and China entered the Indian market, the prices of walnuts produced by J&K fell sharply. The decline of its local market is pushing the growers to the wall and the industry is on the verge of collapse. At the same time, the horticultural department has failed to come to the rescue of the walnut industry in J&K, despite the production of walnuts having decreased by half during the last decade. The prevailing condition of the industry has compounded the doubts about its future. Thus, to keep the walnut industry of Kashmir alive it is paramount to initiate policies as per the requirement of the global market and changing patterns of walnut cultivation to keep it capable of competing in the worldwide, global agricultural market.
Walnut Industry of Kashmir
The walnut industry holds a unique position in the horticulture sector of Jammu and Kashmir, as the Union Territory occupies the largest share in total area and production of walnut. J&K produces 98% walnuts in India spreading over an area of 61723 hectares.
India stands eighth in Walnut production in the world. According to a report (2017) by the national horticulture board, Jammu and Kashmir produces 206.43 thousand metric tons of walnut and comparatively rest of the country produces only 21.8 metric tons.
All the areas of J&K are producing walnuts except the district of Samba and Jammu. Anantnag, Kupwara, and Kulgam stand at the top by producing 41021 MT, 25000 MT, and 21319 MT respectively, followed by Budgam, Baramulla, Ganderbal, Buderwah, and Srinagar.
J&K’s walnut industry is facing serious challenges due to which it is heading toward decline. The sector has been struggling to the point of crisis for the past couple of years due to which many cultivators and traders are heavily in debt.
It can be gauged by the fact that the fresh season of walnut cultivation has started but the previous production is still lying unsold in the stores of cultivators and traders as they are not able to find a proper buyer.
Abdul Ahad Malik of Sholipora village of Budgam purchased walnuts from growers last year but has failed to sell them so far. Pertinently, Kashmir walnuts have been in high demand in domestic and international markets, particularly in the past decade.
However, the local production of walnuts has been facing severe challenges since Californian, Chilean, and Chinese walnuts entered into the Indian market.
Although the government has imposed import duties of 132 percent on US-bound shipments of walnuts and 110 percent on Chilean shipments, the imports haven’t fallen and are hurting Kashmir’s walnut sector.
Production Decreasing Drastically
Apart from demand, the production of walnuts is also decreasing drastically. It can be estimated by the fact that India shipped 1,648.26 metric tonnes of walnuts for Rs 52.77 crore during the 2019–20 fiscal year.
This is not even close to the 3,292 metric tonnes of walnut produce that India exported in 2015–16, valued at roughly Rs 117.92 crore. In 2016–17, the export of walnuts fell to 2,191 metric tonnes, valued at Rs 55.27 crore.
In the Budgam district alone, the production of walnuts has fallen by 97 percent in 2019-20. As per the research, the traditional walnut trees are in the grip of many diseases which has severely affected both the quality and quantity of walnuts.
Thousands of traditional walnut trees affected by the diseases are not yielding any fruits and occupying the land and serving no purpose. Farmers can’t cut them as the government has included walnuts in the Jammu and Kashmir Preservation of Specified Trees Act in 1969.
The Act was enacted with the motive to preserve walnut trees from cutting. However, the prevailing scenario of the walnut industry demands modification of this act. With the advent of alternative avenues in the horticulture sector including the walnut industry, cultivators lost interest in traditional walnut farming as it has several cons from per cultivator’s perspective.
Lack Of Proper Care
The traditional walnut trees do not receive proper care. The prominent reason is the large size of traditional walnut trees. Such large trees require modern technology for their management and cultivation. However, the walnut growers in Jammu and Kashmir are still following the primitive techniques of production, and post-production which is life-risking and time-and-labor-consuming, and expensive as well.
Every walnut harvesting season is accompanied by the loss of many lives. Therefore, the farmers are not interested anymore in being associated with the traditional cultivation of walnut trees.
Furthermore, a traditional walnut tree takes 13-15 years to bear fruit. This prolonged gestation period is among many reasons why traditional walnut production continues to decline. Thus, the farmers are choosing cash crops like apples, cherries, plums, etc over traditional walnuts.
Another challenge faced by walnut cultivators of Jammu and Kashmir is the inconsistent size and low-quality fruit-producing tendency in numerous walnut plantations. This type of produce lost its competitive edge in the international market, particularly after walnuts from abroad entered the Indian market, where consistent size and good quality walnuts are required. However, this issue could have been overcome by adopting different methods of walnut budding. Unfortunately, this necessary scientific measure is not being followed properly and widely in Jammu and Kashmir.