On the other side of the Razdan Pass where the dirges of Habba Khatoon are still making the air mournful, countless natives of the militarized valley are thrilled with the corporatization of their homeland crop.
With PepsiCo’s corporate offer, hopes to revive local economy have reappeared in the captivating landscape as many abandoned their organic farms in the fall of 1947 when the shadowed guns and frontier fireworks drifted the clan and divided the dard tribe by the Line of Control.
Up in Himalayas, Gurez valley is girded with towering peaks dotted with coniferous and pine trees, and the Neelum or Kishan Ganga River which cavalcades through the valley makes its environs cold and soil fertile.
The remote valley already produces a good quantity of potatoes, around 1.5 lakh quintals of potatoes per year but the weather-hostage terrain tucked close to a snapped Silk Route gateway, (geographically close to Burzil Pass, a Kashmir gateway to the Astore district of Gilgit Baltistan) remains closed for six months due to snow accumulated mountainous highway.
Sultan Lone, 40, a potato farmer from Gurez’s Tulail village has been producing potatoes for 10 years now. He is hopeful of the International interest as the offer has bolstered Gurez youth to start the bumper crop production for popular Lay’s chips.
The development will not only proliferate our business, I think, he says, our youth, who used to move to Bandipora town or Srinagar after high school for earning, will now be able to start their business here.
“It would be an impending economic change in the region, because the natives are scattered due to the lack of employment opportunities,” lone says.
Most of the natives have migrated to developed areas of the Kashmir valley as people here are dependent either on government sector or army for employment. Those who decided to stay here work as porters for army, he says.
Lately, Kashmir’s SKUAST also announced to supply potato chip-making machines to farmers in north Kashmir’s Gurez and promised to provide specific varieties of potato seeds, free of cost.
The top agricultural scientists suggested farmers to focus on organic potato farming under the brand name of 'Himalayan Organic Potato Chips' which would be known for producing high-quality potatoes and free from diseases, insects, nematodes, vectors.
The America’s MNC, PepsiCo entered India in 1989, today, it is one of the largest MNC food and beverage businesses. It stocks iconic brands like Pepsi, Lay’s, Kurkure, Tropicana 100%, Gatorade and Quaker.
At an altitude of 8,000 feet above sea level; In Tulail village, nearly every house depends on the potato farming and locals believe the distant LOC village’s aptitude was recognised after a poster boy of bureaucracy lifted security sanctions in 2015 and threw it open for Tourism.
Asif Teero, a young farmer who has an ancestral specialisation in Growing Potatoes told The Himalayan Post that he has been working hard to sell their produce to big business and trying to multiply the production since he heard the news of the corporate consumption.
Our potatoes are special, more hygienic and free from the influence of insects, Teero says with immense pride.
“I am incorporating every other sibling in the work so that my farm produces the most,” he says.
“I always expected global attention to our remote region,” he says while closely inspecting his siblings at the farm.
“It’s a moment of joy for us, as the region lacked employment prospects.”
At first, our potatoes would only go throughout the Kashmir valley and I am so excited to see how potatoes from Gurez will be used as famous chips brand, he says.
A social Activist Irshad Samoon appreciated the move stating that the dire need to generate employment in area will be mended.
Beyond Tourism boom, garrisonisation of land, corporatization of its water and now another corporate offer, Lone while sitting on the green grassland believes the offer still poses a challenge in Gurez as its winter is harshest than other parts of the Kashmir valley.
In winters, even helicopters struggle to fly during medical emergencies, and it would be interested to see how Pepsico would overcome those challenges, he says.