Srinagar: Every autumn, water chestnut farmer Ghulam Nabi Bhat sets out on a long journey for a prized catch. For months, he would cruise through serene waters to harvest water chestnuts before selling them in the nearby market.
Last year, however, he tried to innovate to increase his earnings. He started making water chestnut flour and it was an instant hit among his customers.
“Harvesting water chestnuts is a very tiring job and returns are very less. Last year SKUAST- Kashmir (Division of Food Science and Technology) advised the farmers to process the chestnut for better returns. I followed the suggestion and now my business is comparatively better than in previous years,” he said.
To benefit the farmers, scientists at the Division of Food Science and Technology, SKUAST- Kashmir are currently experimenting with the use of water chestnut as a raw material for food products
“The programme started last year and we trained farmers in making food products from water chestnuts. Its flour can be used in the bakery. Last year we made biscuits, muffins, cakes, ready-to-eat snacks, and other bakery items from chestnut flour,” said Syed Zameer Hussain, Associate professor at the Division of Food Science and Technology, SKUAST, Kashmir.
Experts claimed that water chestnuts have good commercial potential in the national and international market if processed and sold in the form of various products.
“Kashmir is known for producing a good quantity of water chestnut crop. Its commercial potential is very much and can be explored for making bakery products. Chestnuts are gluten-free and are good for people who are gluten intolerant and diabetic,” said Hussain said.
He said they are going to hold a training workshop for the farmers living near Wular, Anchar, and other lakes to train them in chestnut processing.
“We are planning to give a training to the farmers in making flour of chestnuts. Farmers can grind flour, properly pack it and later brand the product. It can be later sold on Amazon and other e-commerce sites where demand for gluten-free products is very high,” Hussain said.
He said the farmers also need to learn the techniques of pre-conditioning of water chestnuts to ensure enhanced demand for the produce.
“There is science and standard technology involved in the gelatinization of the starch (chestnuts). Farmers need to follow a proper water ratio to ensure that chestnuts are delicious and have less moisture content. These training will be imparted to farmers very soon,” he said.
Pertinently, Kashmir valley produces an estimated 7000 MT of water chestnuts annually.
While most of the production comes from Wular; Dal, Anchar, Shallabugh, Hokarsar, and Haigam wetlands are other main sources of chestnut production.
It is also estimated that the average annual production of water chestnut from Wullar lake is about 4000-5000 MT. About 80,000 people residing in 28 villages earn a livelihood from chestnut harvesting.