Kashmir's famous Gucchi mushroom with its famed strength to build libido, the Valley's various varieties of rice, kala zeera and red chilli are popular not only within India but also abroad. It is time that the government must push for the Geographical Indication (GI) tag for these products in order to boost their sale, strengthen their branding and help the Valley's farmers.
The Covid experience has deepened faith in the goodness of natural, organic products to build strength and immunity. There is renewed interest in products from Kashmir, which are acknowledged globally for their quality and impact. Kashmiri farmers are worried that producers from other areas may try to milk ‘Brand Kashmir’ by labelling low-quality products as Kashmiri and selling them cheap. In this light, GI tagging of leading farm produce from Kashmir is essential.
Kashmir's famous Gucchi mushroom, Mushk Budji rice, red chilli and kala zeera are popular not only in India but also abroad. (Photo: Instagram/ @someplacemanali and Wikimedia Commons)
Last year, the famed Kashmiri saffron was granted the GI tag, symbolising its exclusivity in the international market. This buoyed the local farmers, who are now looking forward to getting a suitable price for Kashmiri saffron. Farmers of other prized products from the Valley are hopeful that the government will accelerate the GI tagging for their products too.
The GI tag has been sought for Gucchi, one of the most expensive mushrooms in the world, which retails for over Rs 20,000 per kg. Gucchi grows in the forests and pastures in Jammu and Kashmir’s Doda district and is regarded as heirloom crop. It also grows in the high altitude areas of Shopian, Kishtwar, Kupwara, Pahalgam and Poonch.
Gucchi is known internationally as Morel mushrooms or Morchella Esculenta. These are known to have antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. They are a rich source of protein, carbohydrates, and Vitamin B. More popularly, Gucchi mushrooms are valued for their aphrodisiac properties.
The local farmers are hopeful that GI tagging will protect the brand and also help them get the right price for the produce. The mushrooms are essentially forest produce and are collected by the local farmers and tribals, who are dependent on it for their livelihood.
The demand for GI tag is also picking up for Kashmiri honey. Kashmir is regarded as one of the prime zones in the world for honey production. The Valley’s climes are considered highly suitable because pollen and nectar are naturally available to the bees. Kashmiri honey is regarded highly also because it is hydrophobic or water repellent. The honey produced in other parts of the world is hygroscopic, that is, it tends to absorb moisture from the surrounding environment.
Similarly, the GI tag is being sought for the various varieties of Kashmir’s indigenous rice. Foremost among them is Mushk Budji variety of rice — the short-grained aromatic rice grown in higher reaches of Kashmir valley. The cooked rice is unique and possesses a harmonious blend of taste and aroma. This variety of rice has rich organoleptic properties as it acts on not just the sense of taste, but also the senses of smell and sight. It is mainly is grown in Sagam, Panzgam and Soaf Shali of Anantnag district, and the Beerwah belt of Budgam district. It is a delicacy especially sought during special occasions like marriages and festivals and is finding a big market abroad.
Kashmir also has other varieties of indigenous rice. These include Zag rice (red rice) which is grown in the Karna and Lolab belt. The Meetha rice of Kashmir is another coveted delicacy.
Similarly, the black cumin or kala zeera from Kashmir is very rich in taste and smell and imparts a distinct flavour to the dish. Kashmiri red chilli is popular for its mild zing and vibrant red colour. Kashmiri farmers say the GI tag will establish the exclusivity of their products and firmly establish its value in the international market. They say that the use of the geographical indication, as an indication of the product's source, shall give them the certification that the product possesses qualities corresponding to ‘Brand Kashmir’ on account of its geographical origin.