Kashmiri Saffron losing its fragrance

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Kashmir Wire

Srinagar

This time of the season when the uplands of Pampore on the outskirts of Srinagar, presents a breath-taking sight of fields full of purple coloured saffron flowers but Government’s failure to make irrigation facilities functional have rendered the fields deserted.

With no traces of flower and harsh winter approaching fast, the saffron growers are expecting the lowest ever crop yield this year. They said they are expecting only five to ten percent crop yield this year, due to dry agricultural season this year. “The irrigation system would have compensated the dry spell and enabled growers to wade off the drought and its adverse effects on the production”, they said.

Abdul Majid Wani of Saffron growers association said that thousands of growers who are cultivating saffron over 3000 hectares of land would have availed the irrigation facility and it would have also doubled the production. “it would have doubled the production but the authorities have failed to provide the irrigation facilities when growers need it the most’, he said.

Castigating the government over its failure to enable the irrigation facilities, he said, “it is a total failure on the part of Government as they have inflicted huge losses on the growers due to their poorly managed irrigation facilities. The irrigation system is in place but it is poorly managed”, he said, adding that plenty of irrigation wells have been dug but authorities have failed to put them to use.

The irrigation system consists of laying the water supply pipes and installing the sprinklers and the system was being set up to manage the drought issues affecting the area, according to the department of irrigation.

Altaf Ahmad Andrabi, director for the national saffron mission when contacted admitted that failure of authorities to provide irrigation facilities to the growers might lead to seventy percent drop in the saffron production, “I think the outsourcing did not work well. The digging of bore well and all the other mechanical part of the work was outsourced to the mechanical engineering department which failed to deliver on time and that caused the delay”, he said.

The saffron is a small purple flower that blooms every fall in the uplands of Pampore on Srinagar-Jammu National Highway, but unplanned urbanization and government’s failure to implement the multi-crore “saffron Mission” has put this precious crop in peril.

End Product: The stigmas of saffron cultivated in Kashmir are extremely long and with a thicker head. They are also of a deep red color. The size of the stigmas indicates the inherent suitability of the soil and climate for this product.

In order to increase saffron production and to bring more land on saffron cultivation Government of India sanctioned an ambitious four hundred crore national saffron mission in the year 2010. The scheme was launched by the centre in partnership with the state with the aim of raising production from three Kgs to Five Kgs per hectare but even after seven years, the scheme is yet to make an impact on the status of the crop.

In seven years, the government has drilled nearly 90 bore wells needed for the irrigation of saffron fields but a majority of them lay defunct. Officials in agriculture department say that the mission envisaged establishing 109 bore wells with 100 percent project support. “But till date, only 90 bore wells have been dug”, said an official. “And ironically, only four of them are fully functional”, he added.

Abdul Ahad Kuchay, a saffron grower said “I used to get more than two kilograms of saffron every year but this time I don’t think I would even get 300 grams. The mission has destroyed our crop more than anything has. We were getting good produce by practicing the traditional ways of farming. Saffron is a kind of crop that grows in natural conditions. Any interference with it destroys the crop. They (officials) asked us to use cow dung, fertilizers and other things, but all these methods have been unsuccessful”, he complained.

Family Action: Nothing is wasted. The petals are eaten as a vegetable, animals are given the stems, and of course, the red stigmas alone are the purest Kashmiri saffron-The golden herb.

However, some growers alleged that government’s inability to aware the farmers about the modern farming techniques and lackadaisical approach to make irrigation pumps functional has put the whole mission at crossroads. “There were no awareness camps wherein the grower would have learned about the latest techniques and lack of demonstration plots has affected the entire mission”, Ghulam Rasool, a grower said.

When asked about the present drastic decrease in the production, he said, “drought and lack of irrigation facilities have affected the production. Had the authorities made all the bore wells functional on time things would have been different. “I irrigated my four-five kanals of land myself and received a good produce. In the two-three kanals of land which I irrigated, I received nearly eight kilograms of saffron but I received almost nothing from the rest of my land”, he said.

Zahoor Ahmed Mir, MLA from Pampore and Minister of state in the PDP-BJP government, when contacted said that last month he convened a high-level meeting and ordered the implementation agencies to make the irrigation facility available by the end of December this year. “From Agriculture Minister to the Mission Director everyone was called to seek reasons behind this inordinate delay in making all the bore wells functional. They have been given a time of two months to make the irrigation facility functional and if they fail to do so, we will take action”, he said.

Helping Hands: Legend has it that both the foreigners having fallen sick beseeched a cure for illness from a local tribal chieftain. When the chieftain obliged, the two holy men reputedly gave them a saffron crocus bulb as payment and thanks.

Asked why it took seven years for the state to provide the irrigation facilities to the saffron growers, he said “there are multiple reasons behind this delay. Initially, the growers did not allow the authorities to lay the irrigation pipes through their fields and it took us a lot of time to convince them. The unrest of 2010, floods of 2014 and the unrest of 2016 equally dented the project”, he said.

Experts say Saffron has been grown in Kashmir since the Mughal period which was brought from Iran approximately 240- to 250 years back and cultivated in Pampore. The saffron crop is sown in the months of May and June and the flowers harvested in the late autumn. In winter months of December and January, saffron finds its way to the market at Rs.70,000 to Rs.75,000 per kilogram.

They say Kashmiri saffron is used in Mediterranean, Mexican and domestic cuisine is considered valuable than Iranian and Spanish saffron but it not recognized.

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