Saffron Mela turns out a damp squib

Saffron Mela turns out a damp squib
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Lowest-ever farmer participation due to drastic decline in production

PAMPORE: A one-day Saffron Mela organised by SKUAST -Kashmir in Pampore turned out to be a damp squib with farmer participation remaining low due to a decline in the crop production for more than six years.
Farmers curtly said that organising such a mela was a futile exercise and a waste of money as the crop has gone into drastic decline.
“We have been left in the lurch as we have been waiting for the irrigation of the crop for the last eight years, but till date nothing like that seems to have taken place for at least the last two years,” a farmer said, adding that when they were given money for high-density saffron plantation, the department deducted Rs 5,000 for irrigation.
The saffron crop requires irrigation at certain critical times including in the pre- and post-harvest sessions, but while rains have been minimal over the past few years, including the one in progress, the required water supply to saffron plantations remained low.
Saffron farmers told Kashmir Reader that the Irrigation and Mechanical Engineering Department had failed to dig bore wells and install water pumps.
Although nine years have passed since the Saffron Mission was launched in order to increase the crop’s production in Jammu and Kashmir, production has only been on the decline ever since.
The main components of the mission were high-density plantation of saffron and provision of sprinkler irrigation system to the fields. But the executive agencies, particularly the Mechanical Engineering Department (MED), have altogether failed on both fronts.
Vice-Chancellor Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology of Kashmir (SKAUST-K) Nazeer Ahmad told Kashmir Reader that the scientists working on saffron were trying their best to revive the prized crop and have developed a new variety called Shalimar Saffron, which would be provided to farmers soon.
Chief Agriculture Officer, Pulwama, Mohammad Yousuf told Kashmir Reader that the MED had made the Agriculture Department defaulters as they had not succeeded in digging the required bore wells and failed to install the machinery in time.
He said that the MED has been able to dig and install 100 sprinklers out of 109 over the last eight years, but only five of these were actually functional.
The growers lambasted the executing agencies for their slow pace and its consequences that have compelled the farmers to transform their land for other purposes.
Former Agriculture Minister Ghulam Nabi Lone Hanjoora and former Irrigation Minister Mir Zahoor Ahmad visited Spice Park, Dusoo, last year and gave the authorities a dressing down as they promised to complete the sprinkler irrigation facility by December 31 2017, a farmer, Suna Ullah, told Kashmir Reader.
The original deadline for the installation of the sprinkler irrigation system was December 2015.
The Government of India (GoI) had sanctioned the highly ambitious, Rs 371.18 crore National Saffron Mission in 2010, to prevent the decline of saffron production in Kashmir.
The cost of the project was later increased to Rs 411 crore.
While the project was launched for five years, the GoI approved its extension by two more years after the state failed to meet the initial December 2015 deadline.
Farmers told Kashmir Reader that this year’s extended dry spell and the subsequent failure of the government in providing saffron farmers with the sprinkler irrigation facility was a death blow to them.
Sources said that so far only 30 sprinkler systems have been handed over to the department and of these only five are functional.
The Saffron Day was organised on Friday at Dusoo by the SKUAST-K Saffron Research Station in collaboration with the Directorate Extention, SKUAST-K and sponsored by the National Mission on Himalayan Studies.
The SKUAST Vice-Chancellor was the chief guest on the occasion.
No officials from the Agriculture Department of Pulwama district attended the function.
Neither the Director agriculture of Chief Agriculture Officer of Pulwama were present in the function.
However, CAO Pulwama Muhamamd Yousuf said that they were not invited to the function and could not have gone on their own.