Located 125 kilometers away from the summer capital Srinagar, the enchanting Gurez valley and its adjoining Tehsil Tulail are known for their vast potential in growing high-quality and delectable potatoes.
Thanks to the valley’s cold climatic conditions and the nutrient-rich soil, Gurez is already a prodigious producer of potatoes. However, the valley’s unique conditions also make it ideal for growing potato seeds, adding to its allure and making it a prime destination for potato lovers.
But Gurez is more than just a place for agriculture. Its beauty and stories are steeped in history and legend, making it a favourite destination for those seeking to explore the unknown. The valley has been a bastion of growing quality potatoes for generations, and it is believed that the tough terrain kept the valley mostly closed from the rest of the world during the winter months, making potatoes the lone source of stable food crop of the valley.
The Mountain Agriculture Research & Extension Station, izmarg of SKUAST-Kashmir are evaluating various high yielding lines of potato for Gurez valley under its Potato Research Program under Gurez conditions. A testament to the expertise and hard work of the local farmers making the Gurez, “The Potato Basket of Kashmir”.
Last year, after bagging the best offbeat tourist destination award in 2022, nature lovers flocked the valley to have a hike in the patchy defiles of the sky-scrapping peaks there.
The prodigious amount of sweet potatoes beneath the lush green landscape of Gurez valley attracted Pepsico India Holdings Pvt. Ltd. to procure potato crop from farmers of the valley for the crispy Lays Chips providing a major boost to penury farmers who spade these potatoes.
In this connection, a meeting took place between Hon’ble Vice Chancellor of SKUAST-Kashmir, Prof. Nazir Ahmad Ganaie and the R&D Head of PepsiCo India Holdings Pvt. Ltd. Dr Santosh Tiwari alongwith a young scientist working on Project DOF Fruit Science Dr Sharbat Hussain and Mr Vaibhav Garg (Regional Manager North) with the purpose to discuss the extension of a collaborative farming approach for potato crops in the Kashmir Valley, with the leading potato chip manufacturing conglomerate in the country.
An official who is the part of the project told Rising Kashmir that pepsico India proposed the idea of initiating collaborative farming of potatoes in Gurez Valley intending to improve the livelihoods of the farming community and for the purpose, they requested for the allocation of experimental plot at the Research Station of SKUAST-Kashmir for evaluation some specific varieties suitable for chips making under the close supervision of scientists of SKUAST-KASHMIR.
He also said that VC SKUAST-K supported the business idea and offered full scientific and other logistic assistance to establish collaborative potato farming in this Himalayan remote valley.
He also suggested that the organization should focus on organic potato farming under the brand name of ‘Himalayan Organic Potato Chips’ in Gurez valley, which is known for producing high-quality potatoes and is free from diseases, insects, nematodes, vectors etc, the official said.
He also suggested that the organization should consider potato production in Hirpora of Shopian district which is another potato-producing region of Kashmir valley, he added.
In conclusion, HVC suggested the establishment of a Potato Tissue Culture Lab at SKUAST campus and the issuance of seeds for the identification of the geographically adapted superior varieties of the potato crop. He also encouraged the organization to set up a manufacturing plant in the Gurez valley to meet the demand for potato chips in the domestic market, he said.
He said that initially they have identified two locations, Gurez and Srinagar, where the potato trials will be conducted and after the evaluation of the varieties, they will be provided to the farmers through the SKUAST-Kashmir who will be provided full support from Pepsico India Ltd. for this initiative.
The project has already begun its activities in this regard and hopefully, trials will be conducted during the current season. The best performing varieties will be provided to the farmers involved in Potato cultivation, he said.
He also said that they will purchase the produce directly from the farmers, which will generate income for them in areas where potato crops are grown.
Commending the initiative, Arshid Lone, a social activist from Gurez, while speaking to Rising Kashmir said, “It would be a welcoming step for the marginalized people of Gurez, as they currently have no other source of income apart from potato farming. Their hopes are dependent on these ranches helping them produce a substantial yield of potatoes every season.”
However, this surplus production has led to excessive wastage, exacerbating their poverty. If this initiative succeeds, it will not only benefit the farmers but also add to the production of potatoes for international brands,” Lone added and applauded the efforts of Hon’ble Vice Chancellor of SKUAST-Kashmir for his interest in improving the livelihoods of the tribals of Gurez valley.