Saffron fields calling

More than a dozen cement factories and illegal constructions have wreaked havoc with the fields that produce Saffron.  As many as 300 villages in and around Pampore cultivate the `golden crop’. But the saffron fields that won the state handsome revenue are fast shrinking. The growers ascribe reasons to massive road widening and the number of cement factories that have come up in the area.  Illegal constructions on saffron fields have also affected the crop adversely. From 5,707 hectares in 1997, the saffron fields shrunk to a worrying 3,010 hectares. And from 16 metric tons, it has annually come down to six metric tons. The Kashmiri saffron is the world’s most expensive by weight and sells for anywhere between Rs 2.5 lakh and Rs 3 lakh a kilogram.  Experts at SKUAST believe that cement dust and lack of irrigation facilities had caused extensive damage to the crop.  The saffron production has registered a decline over the past few years and the growers have blamed the concerned authorities besides dry weather for it. According to data furnished by the growers the production of saffron flowers per Kanal was about 15-20 kilogram which has reduced to seven to ten Kilogram last year. The decline was noticed everywhere and not just in a particular area.  A grower having six kanals in Pampore Karewa area where he picked only six kilograms harvested only 75 percent compared to last year. The results were similar in another field in Chandhara area of the Karewa. Curiously the production in the areas that come under the National Saffron Mission was slightly better as compared to other areas where it is grown in the traditional way. The `golden crop’ provides livelihood to thousands of persons directly and indirectly. The concerned, therefore, have to take measures to improve production by providing knowhow and high yield seeds.  The growers too have to abandon the primitive modes of cultivation and seek the advice of the experts in future especially when the production in areas coming under the NSM was better as compared to other areas. It has been observed that the growers, by and large, are reluctant to give up the traditional modes of cultivation. But they incur huge losses to themselves and the state, by shying away from the modern techniques. The experts suggest proper irrigation facilities in September which is a crucial period for the crop. The government has to do a lot more besides providing technical knowhow and high quality seeds. The cement dust is killing the crop slowly but surely. It is chocking the saffron fields but is anybody listening.