Intense Kashmir Logging Sparks New Fears of Cricket Bat Shortage

As demand for Kashmir Willow soars 300% ahead of the Cricket World Cup, manufacturers face a raw material shortage within 3-5 years

Thu 28 Sep 23


Just days from the start of the Cricket World Cup, bat manufacturers are concerned that the “over-exploitation of trees in the Himalayan region” could lead to a global shortage of cricket bats.

It comes as Wood Central can reveal that demand for cricket bats has increased by 300% in the months leading up to the World Cup!

As reported by Al Jazeera overnight, manufacturers are concerned about “unchecked logging” in the Indian-administered territory, which they claim has reduced healthy woodland to scrub.

“It’s a case of culling all the time and no sowing,” according to Irfan Ali Shah, a senior official in the territory’s forest service.

Exacerbating the problem, local farmers are turning to poplar trees, preferred by the booming plywood industry, fueling India’s surging building and construction industry.

Footage courtesy of @The Hindu.

According to a local farmer, “A willow tree matures in 30 years and poplar in half the time, and it fetches the same price,” and “This year, we planted 300 poplars and about five willows.”

As reported in July, India is emerging as a leader in global afforestation, setting a target to restore 26 million hectares of forest land. In addition, the country plans to create 2.5-3 billion tonnes of additional carbon sinks.

It’s a different story in Kashmir, a disputed territory between India and Pakistan and the engine room for the global production of cricket bats.

Bats are manufactured in Kashmir, a territory administered by India and one of the world’s most militarised zones. Footage courtesy of @Vox.

According to Mr Shah, the supply of Kashmir willow cannot meet the surge in demand, with excessive logging putting the entire industry at risk.

The industry employs over 120,000 people and manufactures nearly 1 million bats annually. About 400 cricket bat factories operate in Kashmir Valley, mainly in the Anantnag district of South Kashmir.

“We have started searching far-off corners of the valley, but there is not much good willow to be found anywhere for making the best quality bats,” said Fawzul Kabiir, whose GR8 bats are International Cricket Council-approved and sold worldwide.

Mr Kabiir warns that the industry will run out of raw material over the next three to five years “unless the government plants on an industrial scale.”

Professional crickets have traditionally favoured English willow over Kashmir willow, but the supply is crucial to meet the growing demand for the sport in South Asia.

As Wood Central Greg Abel reported in July, English bats are traditionally 5-10 times more expensive than their Kashmir equivalents.

“Kashmir willow bat prices are 1/5th and 1/10th of their (English willow bat) prices,” Mr Kabiir said. 

“An English willow which costs around Indian Rupees 80,000 performs equivalent to a Kashmir willow bat costing between Indian Rupees 2,000 to Rs 5,000 only.”

Fawzul Kabiir, right, inspects willow clefts at his factory. Willow has criss-crossing fibres that give it strength and tiny air pockets that reduce vibrations, making the wood light but powerful enough to smash a ball for six. (Photo Credit: Mauseef Mustafa from AFP)
Fawzul Kabiir, right, inspects willow clefts at his factory. Willow has criss-crossing fibres that give it strength and tiny air pockets that reduce vibrations, making the wood light but powerful enough to smash a ball for six. (Photo Credit: Mauseef Mustafa from AFP)
‘Next extermination’ as supplies are vanishing fast

According to Agricultural scientists from Sher-e-Kashmir University, female willow trees, considered the most suitable for bat-making, are already close to total extermination.

They claim one million trees have been harvested in the past decade alone, with the Indian government removing plantations and taking water from the shrinking Wular Lake, protected under the United Nations Ramsar Convention.

Elsewhere, willow has been “clear felled” to make way for farmland and rice paddies, poplar has also grown to meet demand for plywood and the global pencil industry.

Smugglers are flouting export bans

To control logging and boost local industry, the Indian Government banned cleft exports to the rest of India and overseas in the late 1990s.

But the law is repeatedly flouted, with some 100,000 clefts illegally sent elsewhere annually, a bat-makers association official said.

A worker stacks Kashmiri raw willow wood planks. (Photo Credit: Mauseef Mustafa from AFP)

“Smuggling of our precious raw material has not stopped,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the topic.

Authorities used to plant willow on state land to maintain firewood supplies but stopped decades ago as electricity and gas became available for heating.

Mr Shah believes bat-makers must “plant their own willow on their own land” to replace each tree felled.

Workers at a factory in Kashmir’s Sangam village. The industry employs some 120,000 people across 400 workshops, according to manufacturers. (Photo Credit: Mauseef Mustafa from AFP)

But private land is scarce in Kashmir, and prices have surged since New Delhi suspended the region’s semi-autonomous status and imposed direct rule in 2019.

That allowed Indians from elsewhere to buy land in Kashmir for the first time, a policy denounced by critics as “settler colonialism”.

“This is our SOS to the government,” Mr Kabiir said. “We cannot do it alone.”


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