Rising Kashmir

Dry fruits have emerged as a viable business in the Valley with 1.60 lakh metric tones produced during the 2008-09 fiscal. Noor ul Amin Bin Khaliq is a prominent dry fruit dealer in Kashmir having been in the trade for more than 37 years and recipient of award from Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry for his role in promotion of Kashmir horticulture. In conversation with Rising Kashmir staffer Rashid Paul, Amin talks about the scope of dry fruit business and its contribution to growth of Kashmir economy.

Q. Before taking up dry fruit business you had tried your luck in Indian Hindi cinema?
A. Yes in 1971 I went to Mumbai for seeking an admission in Film and Television Institute of India (FTI) but failed. I was steadfast in my decision and subsequently joined Nasir Hussain Films, a production company, as equipment assistant.

Q. What made you to say adieu to film industry and take up business?
A. I worked for some eight months with Nasir Hussain films. Joining film industry was a decision against the wishes of my parents. They once visited me while I was on locale for the shooting of a film ‘Yadoon Ki Baraat’. They could not tolerate the drudgery of my work and forced me to say goodbye to films.

Q. Back home, what was the reason for not joining your father’s timber business?
A. I wanted to do something of my own and decided to venture in to dry fruit business. In 1972 I hired a shop in the Pologround area and availed a loan from State Bank of India to start my own venture. My father also helped me in starting the business.

Q. Do you find a change in the market for dry fruits over the years?
A. It was the demand from domestic market particularly the outside state market during the previous decades that drove the dry fruit industry. There was no custom of consumption of dry fruits in the local population. But tradition is changing and Kashmiris have become health conscious and as per my estimates the local population forms 20 percent of the total dry fruit market.

Q. You mostly deal in locally produced dry fruits .Any specific reasons?
A. Because I love my land and want each of its produce to be recognized as brand Kashmir. Beside,there are many things that are special to Valley dry fruits.

Q. So what is special about Kashmiri almonds and walnuts?
A. I have seen and tasted almonds and walnuts of China, America and many other countries. They are in no way comparable to our products in shape and taste. However, our almonds are smaller in size than the Californian varieties which are plump because of irrigation facilities. If the government makes a sincere effort in introducing late blooming and high yielding varieties and arranges irrigation facilities, we can outpace America, Europe, China and other majors in the walnut and almond industry. The hall mark of our dry fruits is that they are all grown on organic manure and no pesticides or chemicals are used in their production.

Q. But most of our almond fields are being axed for construction of houses and other purposes?
A. The unrestricted felling of these trees for constructions should be banned immediately. We have lost thousands of such trees grown on plateaus in many areas of the Valley. The walnut and almond farms should be mechanized. There is the practice of early plucking of the fruit which affects their outlook and produce. Mechanization can increase production besides preserving the quality.

Q. You deal in saffron also? Many dubious traders adulterate it and earn good profits in exchange for a bad name to Kashmir?
A. Yes I deal in Kashmir saffron. The product is being adulterated. The duplication should be dealt with rigorously as per law. But the government is sleeping over this serious issue. Not only saffron all Kashmir horticulture products need quality control enforcement by the government. This segment also does not seem to be of much concern to the government. We have the lowest yield of saffron. The cultivable land area has shrunk and the crop is still rain fed. Spain and Iran have since long driven us to a non entity in the international market. The farmers don’t have even the storage facility for the flowers.

Q. What according to you is the status of Kashmir honey?
A. I collect honey from the bee keepers all over the Valley and process it at my industrial unit in Khonmoh. It has a 500 kilogram per day capacity and I have recently sent a shipment of Kashmir honey to Middle East. The government should deal with any form of adulteration with heavy hand. My unit was under occupation of Indian army for 10 long years, otherwise its production level would have been much higher.

Q. What is the scope for dry fruit business in the changed economic set up?
A. It pains to see that our young men and women have been groomed on the sarkari naukri mindset although we have plenty of resources in our agriculture and horticulture sector. We need enhancing of our production by mechanizing our farms and imparting training to our youngsters in processing industry and developing marketing chains. We can do wonders in horticulture sector and produce wealth.

Q. But we need to instill work culture?
A. As a nation we have lost the sense of the dignity of labor. From birth to death we have become dependant on Biharis. I visit Maharashtra frequently for busies purposes. One generation of Maharashtrians sold their lands and properties to others and lavished in idleness. Their current generation is thriving as tea and vadapa vendors. I have a nightmare that same may happen to Kashmiris who prefer not to work themselves.

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