The production of walnuts in Kashmir has seen a worrying fall. In Budgam in Central Kashmir alone, the production of walnuts has fallen by 97 per cent in 2019-20. Some of the major reasons are the shortage of quality planting, poor orchard management, and a long gestation period.
Following Covid and increased awareness among consumers regarding the goodness of walnuts, the demand for Kashmiri walnuts has gone up within the country and also internationally. It is alarming that walnut production in Jammu and Kashmir has been falling every year. This has led to a corresponding fall in walnut export from India.
Walnut production in Jammu and Kashmir accounts for about 98 per cent of the total export of walnuts from India. The other states where walnuts are cultivated include Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh. The produce from India is mainly exported to UAE, UK, France, Germany, Netherlands, and some other European nations. The export has been steadily falling over the last few years.
Walnut production in Jammu and Kashmir accounts for about 98 per cent of the total export of walnuts from India. (Representative photo: Reuters)
During the financial year 2019-20, India exported 1,648.26 metric tonne of walnuts to the world, valued at Rs 52.77 crore. This is not even half of the walnut produce that India exported in 2015-16, which stood at 3,292 metric tonnes in 2015-16, valued at Rs 117.92 crore approximately. Walnut export had dropped to 2,191 metric tonnes in 2016-17, valued at Rs 55.27 crore.
On the lines of high-yielding apple rootstock which proved to be the game-changer for apple plantation in India, Jammu and Kashmir needs fresh walnut plantation of high-yielding varieties. As of now, a walnut tree takes about 13 to15 years to produce fruit. This long gestation period is a major challenge. The government must provide walnut farmers with grafted plants of high quality. The government must also encourage orchards that grow specific varieties of walnuts. More area must be brought under walnut cultivation with varieties that record high yields and have a shorter gestation period.
Another challenge faced by walnut cultivators of Jammu and Kashmir is that the produce in many orchards is of variable size and quality. As a result, the produce loses the edge in the global market, which demands uniform size and high quality. This problem can be resolved if farmers adopt grafting of walnut plants. However, this is not being done on the required scale. As a result, farmers are not able to address the problem of low density per unit area. Climatic fluctuations also lead to low productivity.
Walnut orchards also need easy access to modern grading and packing facilities, just like the infrastructure provided for the apple crop. Robust infrastructure support like transport, regular power supply, roads, well-equipped mandis, and packaging, and processing facilities can boost walnut production.
The government must realise the high international value of walnuts from Jammu and Kashmir, and provide the required infrastructure support. The government must train farmers through agriculture extension support and familiarise them with modern methods of planting, healthy cropping, and harvesting. The development of cost-effective technologies shall help farmers in rejuvenating the walnut orchards.