Srinagar: It is walnut harvesting season in the valley. Thirty-eight-year-old Farooq Ahmad Bhat of Baramulla is busy looking for laborers to harvest his produce.
Unlike last year, he is not picking up any random laborers. Given the last year’s experience when scores of men died after falling from walnut trees, he selects a skilled laborer who is equipped with safety gear to prevent loss of life.
“Every grower should ensure the safety of the person employed to harvest the walnut. I have brought some of the skilled men from Kupwara who have know-how about climbing and harvesting the walnuts without putting themselves in danger,” he said.
Apart from skill, he also provides ropes and belts to the laborers to tie themselves with trees while climbing over fragile branches.
“I saw in the videos how walnuts are being harvested in China and Chile. I am also providing safety gears to my men so that they don’t harm themselves,” he said.
Last year, Disaster Management Department issued an advisory for the walnut growers to prevent accidents while harvesting the fruit.
The department appealed to the farmers to use safety gear like helmets, ropes, and nets while harvesting.
“First of all, walnut growers this year are not employing any unskilled person to harvest the walnuts. Even some of the growers ask the laborers to sign a bond before climbing a tree. They provide ropes and anchors to prevent any kind of accident,” said Naseer Ahmad Bhat, a walnut grower from Tangmarg
Many walnut growers, this year have brought skilled men from Pir Panchal regions Poonch, and Bhaderwah to harvest the walnut.
“Poonch and Bhaderwah are known for producing quality walnut and trees in these regions are massive. We don’t hear of such accidents anywhere else apart from Kashmir. So, scores of the men from these two regions stay in Kashmir for a few months to harvest walnuts,” said Bashir Ahmad Wani, a walnut dealer from Sopore.
Jammu and Kashmir Walnut Growers’ and Dealers’ Association, Haji Bahadur Khan said that many growers are willing to replace the traditional walnut trees with new hybrid varieties.
“We have walnut trees which are more than 50-year-old. For the last few years, there have been unfortunate accidents during harvesting season. So, now people are taking various preventive measures. A huge section of growers are now planning to grow hybrid high-density walnut trees,” he said.