April 2018 News

Less Growth, Demand Worries Traders Of Kashmir's Exotic Guchchi

28 April 2018
Greater Kashmir
Saqib Malik

Srinagar: Popularly known as the king of wild vegetables that grow in Kashmir, the prized edible fungi true morels or morchella is witnessing a dwindling growth in the valley and drop in demand outside. Thanks to the scanty snow and rainfall for last few years, , 'Guchchi' as it is locally called, is a super expensive variety of mushrooms, found in the forests of Kashmir has witnessed almost 30 percent drop in the growth, according to the people associated with the trade of the vegetable. Speaking with Greater Kashmir, president, Dry Fruit Association, Kashmir, Bahadur Khan said after the drop in growth since last 3-4 years, the Valley at present produces 25,000 kilograms or 25 metric ton of morels. Khan who is also a Kupwara-based morel trader says being completely dependent on this trade is not possible now. 'Morels are completely organic vegetables which is a gift of nature. But factors such as global warming leading to less snow and rainfall has taken a toll on growth of this exotic vegetable, as its growth is highly dependent on moisture present in the atmosphere. Even Jammu region which at present produces almost 20 MT of morels each year has seen a decline in growth,' Khan said. Khan said thousands of people living in areas close to forests of Karnah, Kupwara, Pahalgam, Kangan, Shopian, Kishtwar, Poonch, Thathri in Doda and other areas are involved in collection and trade of morels. 'After a day's hard work of hunting for morels, a collector in a jungle or a frontier area dries them up. From almost a kilogram of collected morels, the collector is able to churn out only 500 grams of morels which are sellable,' he said. Khan said processed morels used to fetch local traders almost Rs 15,000 per kilogram but the drop in demand outside Kashmir has brought down the prices to Rs 10,000 per kilogram. Apart from metro cities in India, popular markets for Kashmiri morels includes US, Europe and various other countries where it is sold for as much as USD 250 per kg, he said. Khan said state government must create awareness among morel collectors and traders about this exotic variety of mushroom and also provide them marketing avenues. 'More than 90 percent of the morels fetched are exported outside India. Apart from our state, Himachal Pradesh also has a limited growth of morels but our quality is much more superior. Markets across world being flooded with inorganic and cultivated morels from countries such as Canada, China and others is proving to be a challenge for our natural produce,' Khan said. Amin-Bin-Khalik, who is a leading exporter of dry fruits said retail prices for Kashmiri morels which starts from Rs 12,000 and often touches Rs 30,000 , based on the quality, has witnessed a somewhat decrease. Khalik also cited reasons such as global recession responsible for taking a hit on the exotic Kashmiri morel. 'Common people usually don't purchase this product. I have some of the leading chefs and food enthusiasts from across the world as my clients for morels. The global downturn has definitely affected this trade but what is more important is that nature has to be kind enough for this trade to prosper. We can't have our soil not rich enough and expect mushrooming of morels,' Khalik said, adding, drop in influx of high-spending tourists visiting Kashmir has also proved to be counter-productive for the morel business. In order to promote Kashmiri morels across the world, a team of British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) was in the Valley recently to shoot a video story on this delicacy. Speaking with Greater Kashmir, at the condition of anonymity citing company policy as the reason, a BBC Journalist leading the visiting crew said the 2 minute long news-feature on Kashmiri morels has been shot mostly in Kupwara forests. 'We got to know of morels from a high-end restaurant in Mumbai and decided to do a news feature on it. We went all the way inside the Kupwara forests and interviewed locals involved in this trade,' said the journalist.