Rising imports threaten profitability of Kashmir’s walnut and apples

While cheaper imported walnuts from countries such as China, Turkey and the US are causing alarm among the growers, the apple industry, which is the economic lifeline of Kashmir, is also being adversely affected by foreign imports. A report by Riaz Wani

Cheaper imported walnuts from countries such as China, Turkey, and the United States are threatening the produce in Kashmir and causing alarm among traders who want the government to step in.

Walnuts cultivated in Kashmir are more expensive to produce due to various factors, such as the high cost of labour and a lack of irrigation facilities. The cost disparity has thus allowed cheaper foreign imports to corner the Indian market, to the detriment of the produce in J&K.

“The core issue lies in the price differential between Kashmiri walnuts and those from other countries,” said Haji Bahadur Khan, President of the Kashmir Walnut Growers Association, who expressed concern about the declining demand for Kashmir walnuts in Indian markets, attributing it to government actions. “The government has slashed the import duty, and GST has also affected the farmers and dealers.”

Khan, however, emphasized the superior quality of local Kashmiri walnuts, highlighting that they are naturally grown without the use of pesticides or manure. He criticized the preference for walnuts imported from California, China, and Chile, despite their foreign origin.

 “The walnut farmers are worried. They spend more on harvesting crops, and it is a laborious process,” Khan said, while lamenting the decreasing rates for the crop. “One kilogram of walnut kernel which would sell at Rs 1200, sells at Rs 700 per kilogram now. Likewise, the low-quality kernel would sell at Rs 300 per kilogram, at Rs 150.”

Another major hurdle for Kashmiri walnuts is their lack of organic certification, unlike their foreign competitors. This absence of certification limits their export potential, especially to markets such as the European Union, thus undermining the industry’s global competitiveness.

Upsetting the apple cart

The issue is not confined to walnuts alone. The apple industry, which is the economic lifeline of Kashmir, is also being adversely affected by foreign imports. In July, the import duty on Washington apples was reduced from 70 percent to 50 percent, delivering a big blow to local apple growers and traders.

Apple cultivation provides employment to millions of people. Approximately five lakh families, equivalent to around 25 lakh individuals, in the state depend on horticulture, with apples covering about 40 percent of the total fruit-growing area and contributing to a staggering 90 percent of the total fruit production.

Already, similar to the walnut, the growing costs of pesticides and transportation have considerably reduced the returns from apples. Till the time apple is harvested, a farmer has to spray pesticides between 10 to 15 times to save crop from scabs and other ailments.

 “The returns from the apple crop have been diminishing over the years,” said Basharat Bhat, an orchardist from Sopore, Kashmir’s one of the prominent apple towns. “Costs of spraying pesticides and transportation have gone up manifold. This has eaten into returns.”

 The rates of pesticides, Bhat said,  have over the years increased by almost Rs 1,000 per kg. Similarly, the price of wooden boxes in which apples are packed has also gone up to over Rs 100. Labourers who pick apples from trees charge Rs 800 per day. To top it all, the rising cost of transportation has further raised the cost for borrowers.

“The cost of a Kashmiri apple box goes up to Rs 600,” Bhat said. “And to earn a reasonable profit, a box of apples should fetch us around Rs 1000. But the import of apples from other countries puts further pressure on margins.”

So, the reduction in import duty has made it increasingly challenging for local apple growers to compete with imported varieties, which are often sold at lower prices despite their high quality. This is expected to diminish the demand for local apples, potentially leading to a decline in the industry.

If the sector continues to face significant losses due to the influx of low-priced imported apples, the consequences could extend beyond apple farmers, impacting the region’s economy as a whole.

Local stakeholders, including traders and growers, are urging the Union Territory administration to intervene and request support from the central government. Their plea is for measures that can, at the very least, establish a level playing field for Kashmiri fruit and nut producers.

The growers are hopeful that things will improve going forward. For the first time, Kashmir apple is seeing a potential market in Dubai where it has been exported. Dubai’s Lulu Group has started importing Kashmiri apples and also has plans to set up a fruit processing centre in Kashmir.