In the State of Jammu and Kashmir 80 per cent of population depends on the agriculture sector. The diverse climatic conditions, fertile soil, sub-tropical,semi-temperate,temperate and arid climate zones offer a wide scope for cultivation and production of mostly all fruits and vegetables. Among the major horticulture products saffron is one of the most important export products and plays a significant role in employment generation to the rural people of Kashmir. The main cultivation areas of saffron are Kharewa, Chandhora, Pampore areas districts Pulwama, Budgam and Srinagar. District Pulwama, commonly known as saffron bowl of Kashmir, is dominant in saffron production followed by Budgam, Srinagar and Kistwar districts.
Saffron (Crocus sativus) is one of the most important foreign exchange earners crop among the spices grown entirely in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in India.Where about 49 per cent of its total produce is exported. The saffron is one of the oldest commodities of Jammu and Kashmir having large per cent of total share in income realizing of the state. Pampore and its neighbouring areas produce an average of 2,128 kilograms of saffron every year. But during last few years the production is gradually declining with the result the saffron cultivation is under threat in the state due to uncertain climatic conditions and the insufficient irrigation facilities in these areas. The area, production and the productivity of this famous spice has decreased compared to the past years that spread over many villages, was a good source of earning foreign exchange for the country as a whole. Saffron cultivation in Kashmir valley has its historical roots from Iran where world's largest amount 70 per cent of saffron is produced. Saffron has many uses in industries such as food, pharmaceutical, cosmetic and perfumery as well as in the textile dyes. Saffron is famous in the world for its fine flavour, colour and medicinal value and low in volume cash crop of Kashmir. Saffron has shown its role in disease prevention and its treatment. Saffron stigma shows antioxidant activity and thus prevents the degeneration of cells by free radicals. The components of saffron, crocin and safranal showed role in the suppression of inflammatory pain responses and decreased the number of neutrophils and also possess strong activity against bacteria and fungi. Safranal has a protective effect against nephrotoxicity and is cardio-protective. It also reduces the fasting blood glucose levels and also exhibit an anti-tumour effect through inactivation or activation of different molecular cascades.
Jammu & Kashmir having monopoly in the saffron cultivation in India nearby 7.3 per cent of world saffron is produced in the state; puts India on the third rank in world saffron production. The matter of concern is that the saffron cultivation has declined by 25 per cent from 4161 hectares in1998 to 3110 hectares in 2008. However, Saffron production is currently suffering on several counts, especially those relating to productivity as well as post-harvest management. This has resulted in lower production and poor quality. The intense cultivation and monoculture of saffron in saffron grown belts of Kashmir valley, together with the continual use of diseased material has resulted in the frequent occurrence of corm rot diseases caused by pathogens such as Rhizoctonia crocorum, Phoma crocophila, Fusarium moniliforme, a non-sporulating basidiomycetous fungus. Of these diseases, corm rot of saffron caused by Fusarium oxysporum and Fusarium solani is considered to be most destructive in Kashmir valley. These infections generally take place through the injury of corms. The disease is quite widespread and reduces a considerable produce every year .For controlling saffron corm rot, the corms to be planted should be treated with a fungicidal solution containing Mancozeb 75WP (0.3%), Carbendazim 50WP (0.1%) for 5-10 minutes and then spread on a cloth and allowed to dry in shade for another 10-15 minutes. Most important fungicides such as Blitox, Indofil M-45, Difolatoan, Folpat, Bavistin and Tecto were more effective in disease control
The lack of irrigation facilities and research and developmental activities in the related field for cultivation, sowing of corms, seed protection, soil testing were seen to be a major problem in saffron cultivation because when the seed corm not gets sufficient water and rainfall at regular intervals it did not get nurtured and grow properly to give good returns. Farmers do not have knowledge to deal with the situation that emerged in recent years..Also there is existence of the various intermediaries in the marketing in the saffron sale leading to adulteration of inferior quality Iran saffron. The need of the hour is to make the National Mission on Saffron cultivation in the state more improved and strengthen the implementation of the programme for the fruitful results in the long run for the benefit of the farmers. According to the respondents under the National Saffron Mission irrigation pumps need to be provided to the cultivators as crop duration is long.
The mission has not succeeded in its objectives may be due to presence of corruption and political interference. Generally, it was found that the benefits under the mission mostly taken by some approachable farmers in the saffron sector. Keeping in view the importance of saffron industry in the Kashmir valley, the mission needs to be given more financial support and expertise for proper implementation for the best results to protect the future of the saffron cultivation which is going towards the darkness and to protect the future of the thousands of the farmers who are directly or indirectly related to saffron industry in the state for their economic opportunities. The result will be the holistic development of the horticulture in the state to increase productivity, sustainability and profitability. For that there should be an active relationship between government and farmers.
Bisma Ashraf Zargar is Msc Food Technology from IUST Awantipora, Kashmir.