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Imported Chinese walnuts threaten livelihood of farmers in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir

Imported Chinese walnuts threaten livelihood of farmers in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Neelum Valley:  The main source of livelihood of some local farmers residing in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) is under threat due to a surge in the import of Chinese walnuts, placing the lives of 30,000 families at stake.

There is strong competition for organic Kashmiri walnuts in the market with the arrival of Chinese walnuts. Although walnuts coming from China have soft shells and white kernels, Pok walnuts are organic and better in taste. Unfortunately, they are outnumbered by the Chinese nuts in volume. Writing for the Dawn newspaper, Pakistani Prof Sajid Mir said growing organic walnuts at home provided easy seasonal income for villagers in PoK. However, climate change and lack of government attention are turning opportunities into a challenge.

According to Mir, there is a general downturn in the walnut business due to several reasons including the unusual phenomenon of rains over the last decade. This has led to drop in dry fruit rates to a quarter of their price over the last 10 years, thereby diminishing the source of earning for the farming population comprising some 30,000 families.

According to experts, another factor connected with changing weather is insect infestation and the spread of diseases on tree stems and kernels.

"We didn't have insect infestation in walnut crops in the past," Dawn quoted Zafar Jahangir, a Muzaffarabad-based agriculture scientist as saying. He added, "but they have become very common as they are getting a favourable environment due to changing climatic conditions.

"Our walnuts were exported to other countries not long ago," the Pakistani newspaper quoted Khalid Shah, a trader from Neelum as saying.

Further explaining the farmers' predicament, Shah said, "due to the deteriorating quality of crops that are producing brown kernels, we are importing walnuts from China [for the last 8 to 10 years]."

For Kashmiri traders, the arrival of Chinese walnuts in the Pakistani market has added to their problems.

Given these impediments in selling Kashmiri nuts, local landlords are losing interest in walnut cultivation, and that will severely hit local businesses, said Shah.

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