Special Report

Lay’s with Kashmiri flavor—Dardistan’s potato pact with PepsiCo

Men and women working in an agricultural field. [FPK Photo/Tauseef Ahmad.]

On the day when administration issued a tourist advisory on Gurez, the global spotlight on the remote region attributed to armistice is already creating buzz with a recent corporate offer.

Some half a dozen growers look hearty during springtime slog at Abdul Samad’s potato farm. Their body language looks resolute. In a blistering April day, they’re out to boost production for corporate consumption. The enterprising opportunity is even engaging idlers and freeloaders of the town. 

The word-of-mouth in the land of Dards is about an “impending economic change” that might finally end local market blues for the weather-hostage terrain tucked close to a snapped Silk Route gateway.

Samad’s potbelly, indolent appearance and rugged Greek looks make him a quintessential simpleton smiling with naswar-stained teeth. The plain-speaking man from a frontier town beyond Razdan Pass is thrilled with the corporatization of his homeland crop.

“We never expected global attention to our remote region,” says Samad, closely inspecting his farm. “It’s a moment of joy for us, as the move is likely to address our pathos.”

At an altitude of 8,000 feet above sea level in north Kashmir, Gurez rests with the distinction of being a “potato bowl” of the valley. Over the years as the local crop gained prominence in the global food industry, a top snack corporation PepsiCo declared its intention to purchase the potatoes for its popular Lay’s chips. 

The international interest in a small community has bolstered many Gurezis to prepare for a bumper crop.

A farmer woking in potato field. [FPK Photo /Tauseef Ahmad.]

The spirit of mass production is growing in the organic valley at a time when guns have fallen silent at the Line of Control (LoC).

“Earlier we used to collect shells and bullets from our agricultural fields,” says Mohammad Amin, a farmer from Bagtore village of Gurez. “But now, the ceasefire agreement between the two armies has improved tourism as well as boosted the morale of the local farmers to sell their produce to big business houses.”

Following Kashmir’s massive upheaval of the nineties, Gurez valley has witnessed many infiltration attempts triggering frontier fireworks causing immense damage to natives. But following the February 2021 armistice, Gurez has garnered attention for recreational and developmental activities.

In the backdrop of the prevailing olive-branch posturing at the LoC, PepsiCo’s decision to set up operations in Gurez has created a significant excitement for the local economy.

“The arrival of global brands like PepsiCo is a sign that the region will finally realize its full potential and create job opportunities for locals,” Amin continues. “This is good news for Gurez’s hardworking and dedicated people who could now give a brighter future to their children.”

Gurez residents storing fodder for animals. [FPK Photo/Tauseef Ahmad.]

Apart from global branding, Gurez potato is locally being packaged with its famous black cumin. Kashmir’s agricultural department lately revealed its plans to arm young Gurezis with potato chips-making machines to produce zera chips for the local market. The department is also conducting research to evaluate various high-yield potato lines suitable for Gurez under its potato research program.

These market interventions, said Dr. Owais Ahmad, Bandipora’s Deputy Commissioner, are helping the Gurez potato to finally come of age.

“Gurez has been known for growing high-quality potatoes for years, but the weather-hostage condition would only confine it to the primary staple food for the locals,” Dr. Owais said. 

“But now, PepsiCo’s interest in the sweet potatoes grown in the lush green landscape of Gurez valley is bound to change the dynamics of the place.”

In the postcard land where a legend has it that Habba Khatoon sang dirges for her banished Yusuf Shah Chak, many women growers are finding themselves on song now. 

“This [corporatization of Gurez potato] was long overdue,” Khatija, a woman grower, said. “We weren’t able to market our crop due to the six-month-long snowbound situation. But now, we can feel the change.”

In Samad’s farmland, the mood stays conversant with the corporate call. The grower group is praying for the perpetual peace on the LoC as well as business bids to boost local economy.

“Being an organic valley, Gurez has a lot to offer to the world,” says Samad, standing in the backdrop of a snowbound peak and picket. “We lacked proper marketing and branding of our crop. But now, we are happy that a beginning has been made.”

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