GUREZ: This year, anyone in search of black zira (cumin) from Gurez valley may be disappointed as there has been no production of the famous spice from Kashmir.
Zira, which is used to add flavour in vegetable dishes, wazwan and curds, grows naturally in Gurez valley where it does not even require seeds to be sown. However, the locals of the valley said that this year no zira was produced in the region.
“It is after around 20 years – that no zira was produced this year,” said Bashir Ahmad Dar, a resident of Wanpora village in Gurez.
Dar runs a shop outside his home where besides other things, he sells zira to people from outside Gurez.
The zira produced in Gurez is of top quality, famous across Asia, said an agriculture officer posted in the region. “It has high content of oil and aroma,” he said. “It is all natural as no chemical fertiliser is used in its production.”
Zira is usually harvested in July every year. “The best quality zira is grown on the mountains from Khobur to Chorwon,” the officer said.
According to Dar, the region produces around 25 quintals of zira are every year.
Ghulam Mohammad, a resident of Dawar, reasoned that the cause for this year’s shortage was “less rainfall in this region, which resulted in zero production.”
“There was a little rainfall this year,”he added. Dar, who is in his early 50s, told Kashmir Reader that “good quality” zira is only produced naturally. “Those who try to grow zira in farmlands produce a bad quality,” he added.
The agriculture officer told Kashmir Reader that the department had set up a ‘zira farm’ in the early 1990s. “On 12 kanals of land, the agriculture department was able to produce only 1.5 quintals of zira,” he said. “The land has since been used for cultivation of potatoes.”
However, researcher Mona Bhan, author of “Infrastructures of Occupation in Kashmir”, told Kashmir Reader, “Not sure if you heard people say this, but a lot of them associate the absence of zira with deteriorating social and moral values, largely due to the onset of modernity and its attendant values. This includes modern values of individualism as well as infrastructures of modernity such as large dams.”
Bhan has worked in Gurez following the construction of the 330 MW Kishenganga Hydro-electric project (KHEP) in the region. “It is also largely attributed to the destruction of (the Gurez) forests over the years, to the dirt and muck from the (KHEP) dam and the use of their mountains as sites of construction.”
The agriculture officer also said that the department had held several awareness camps in the past. “We informed growers about the commercial potential of zira. We provided them the corn, but diseases played spoilsport along with rotten attacks.”
“I had around 1.25 quintals of zira in my godown, and all of it has finished this year after no zira was grown,” he said.
The officer said that his consumers include employees posted in Gurez, people from Kashmir and those from mainland India. “The Indian army soldiers do not buy it,” he revealed. Gurez is one of the most militarized region in Kashmir. Currently, Dar said, “the rate of zira is around Rs 4,500 a kilo”.
He said to collect one kg of zira “takes a family almost seven days… It is not easy to collect zira from the land.” He added that the consumption of zira helps in reducing fat.
When contacted, Sub-divisional Magistrate, Gurez, Surjeet Singh told Kashmir Reader that the SK University of Agricultural Sciences will start research on the important spice produced in Gurez. “I have talked to top authorities at the varsity and hopefully they will come in 2018,” he said. “The idea is to produce zira at commercial rates.”