Jammu and Kashmir is globally known, among other things, due to its cultivation of the world famous horticulture crop, saffron. The horticulture sector is considered to be the back bone of the state’s economy. Saffron is one of the high value, low volume cash crops predominately grown and 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. It is famous for its saffron, and is known as “Saffron Town of Kashmir”. This saffron township has a table-land (Wuder) in and around.
Kashmiri saffron is valued all over the world for its fine quality and people of Pampore are fond of saying, that there is a certain magical element in the soil of the area, which help the flowers to bloom and the stigmas to be imbued with aroma. It goes without saying that the township has the proud privilege of being one of the places where this golden crop grows.
But the saffron fields that have earned the state and its people handsome revenues are fast shrinking. As of now, saffron cultivation has become uneconomical, nonviable, less profitable and even unproductive in a short period. As per the opinions of local farmers, climate change is a major but not a sole factor affecting saffron fields in the area, but there are other factors which should also be taken note that are responsible for the degradation of saffron productivity. The conversion of saffron land into residential and commercial apartments, which is violation of sec-133A of Land Revenue Act are some of these. Besides that, more than dozen cement factories and other industrial units have come up in Pampore outskirts which have wreaked havoc with the saffron fields.
The unabated acquisition of land by various governments, absence of proper housing policy in the state, lack of irrigation facilities, lack of counseling session by the State Agri-department, lack of proper soil testing, improper grading, are also the major issues that have shrunk the saffron fields to the worrying proportions.
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 Karewas of other villages like Dussu, Wuyan, Konibal, Ladhoo, Chandhara and other villages.
The marketing of saffron is un-organized and is in the hands of brokers, with a long chain of intermediaries linking the grower to the consumer. The main marketing channels are brokers, local traders, agents, cooperative societies, government agencies and company’s since the broker is the mainstay of marketing channel. There is rampant exploitation of farmers mainly due to ignorance regarding the present market value.
Meanwhile, the State Government while keeping in view the importance of the saffron industry and its better outcome in economic development had taken some measures under the economic revival of saffron under the National Saffron Mission,in which every farmer was given Rs twenty five thousand for each Kanal to implement new technologies like seed diversification and transformation. However, the basic purpose of this mission was not seen anywhere (it seems to be an unheard scandal rather than implementing its basic purpose)
This ‘golden crop’ provides live hood to thousands of families in Pampore villages directly and indirectly. So, concentrated and collaborative efforts are the need of the hour 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 to the growers and special financial packages should be available in the Annual-budget for development of this prestigious crop.
Scientific laboratories must be developed, for the provision of distress free and fresh varieties of the seeds are made available, and poor and needy growers are encouraged to cultivate this ‘golden crop’. Proper irrigation facilities must be provided to saffron cultivators in their peak season especially in the month of September and irrigation equipment’s must be provided to the growers on subsidized rates.
The District Administration must begin a demolition drive of illegal Constructions, which have come up on saffron lands. The State Pollution Control Board must conduct random inspection of cement plants and other industrial units. The cement dust, massive road widening, illegal construction and horizontal expansions of housing colonies are major concerns. In combination, the implementation of these measures can salvage the crop and lead to its efflorescence.
The author is a freelance journalist. He has a Diploma in Journalism & Mass Communication from MANUU, Hyderabad and is presently a student of School of Technology at the IUST Campus, Awantipora. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org