Saffron: The Dying Crop

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Jammu and Kashmir is globally known for its cultivation of saffron. Saffron is one of the high value, low volume cash crops predominantly cultivated in the Karewas of Pampore.

This historic township of Pampore is situated on the eastern side of river Jhelum on Srinagar-Jammu National highway. For its saffron, it is also known as “Saffron Town of Kashmir”. This saffron township has a table-land (Wuder) in and around. In fact, Kashmir is considered one among the three top and prominent cultivating places for saffron all over the world. Kashmiri saffron is seen as the legend of saffron species and is valued all over the world for its fine quality, for which people of Pampore are fond of saying that there is a certain magical element in the soil of Pampore, which helps the flowers to bloom. The local population has the proud privilege of living at the place where this golden crop grows.

Jammu and Kashmir tops the list of the saffron growing states in India. In India out of the total 5,707 hectares of land used for saffron cultivation, 4,496 hectares lay exclusively in Jammu and Kashmir. But the saffron fields that earn handsome revenue for the state are fast shrinking.

But the saffron cultivation has become less profitable and even unproductive in a short period. As per the opinions of local farmers, climate change is a major but not the sole factor affecting saffron fields in the area that cause degradation of saffron productivity. The conversion of saffron land into residential and commercial apartments, which is violation of sec-133A of Land Revenue Act is a major concern. Besides dozens of industries in Pampore outskirts, have wreaked havoc with the saffron fields.

The absence of proper housing policy in J&K, lack of irrigation facilities, lack of counseling by Agri-department, lack of proper soil testing, improper grading, are some major concerns that are impacting the saffron fields to the worrying levels. According to print media reports, the annual production has come down from 16 metric tons to 6 metric tons. This saffron is most expensive by weight and sells for anywhere between 2.5 lakh to 3 lakh a Kilogram. The decline in production is not just in Pampore Township but the results were similar in the Karewa’s of other villages like Dussu, wuyan, konibal, Ladhoo, Chandhara and other villages also.

There is rampant exploitation of farmers due to ignorance regarding the present market value. The Administration in past has not paid any heed to all such concerns, so that the local farmers would have got a fair remuneration. However, in past the erstwhile State Government, while keeping in view the importance of Saffron industry and its better outcome in economic development, had taken some measures under economic revival of saffron under National Saffron Mission, in which every farmer was given twenty five thousand for each Kanal to implement new advanced technologies like seed diversification and transformation.

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This ‘golden crop’ provides livelihood to thousands of families in Pampore village’s directly and indirectly. So concerted and collaborative efforts are needed to save this crop. The concerned authorities must provide technical knowhow and high yield seeds, so that growers can abandon the primitive modes of cultivation. The state Agriculture Department must come up with counseling sessions with the growers and special financial packages should be made available in the annual-budget for development of this prestigious crop. Scientific laboratories must be developed, so that distress free and fresh varieties of the seeds are made available. Proper irrigation facilities must be provided to saffron cultivators in their peak season especially in the month of September, and irrigation equipment must be provided to the growers on subsidized rates.

The District Administration must have a vigil on illegal constructions on saffron lands. The State Pollution Control Board must do a random inspection of cement plants and other industrial units to ensure that they are not hazardous to the fields and in case these are, they must be banned. The industrial pollution, illegal construction and horizontal expansions of housing colonies are major concerns. A lot is therefore needed from the concerned authorities to save this ‘golden crop’ from dying.