Kashmiri Saffron is Dying!

Views from Srinagar

Javid Ahmad Wani

KASHMIR has a monopoly in saffron production in India. It is one of the most important export product and most important foreign exchange earner among the spices grown entirely in Jammu and Kashmir. Here, the crop is mainly grown in Pampore and its adjacent areas, Khrew, Ladhoo , Chandhara, Samboora and Wuyan. In some parts of Budgam district, Srinagar and Kishtwar, saffron flowers can be seen in the month of October.
Pampore is called the saffron Bowl of Kashmir where it is treated as a heritage/identity crop. Saffron is referred as the golden crop of the region, as it provides livelihood to the hundreds of people directly, and many others are associated with the crop indirectly and are dependent on the crop for their living in or outside Kashmir.
Saffron has many medical benefits. It is used for asthma, cough, whooping cough(pertussis), and to loosen phlegm. It is also used for insomnia, cancer, hardening of the arteries(atherosclerosis), intestinal gas, depression, Alzheimer’s heartburn, dry skin. In food, saffron is used as a spice, yellow colouring and an flavouring agent. Saffron extracts are used as in perfumes to add the fragrance and in dyeing the clothes.
Saffron was brought to Kashmir from Iran, which is still the largest producer of the crop. Spain, Morocco, Azerbaijan, Italy, Greece and Afghanistan are other producers of the crop. But, Kashmiri saffron is the world’s most expensive by weight and sells for anywhere between 2.00 to 2.5 lakhs per kilogram. An average of 2,128 kilograms of saffron is produced every year in Jammu and Kashmir thus earning 53.20 crores annually. But, the crop is declining at light’s pace since 2005. In 2005, the production of saffron flower per kanal(0.20 hectare) was 15-20 kilogram which reduced to 1-1.5 kg in 2016.
This year, the situation is much worse as the flowering showed 95% decline till now. One kilogram of saffron flower would yield 25grams of saffron after drying which may cost 2500 rupees approximately Thus, a grower in 2005 on one kanal of saffron land would earn almost 50,000 rupees annually. In 2016, the same grower is earning between 3000- 4000 rupees annually, which means 92% income reduction from the same piece of land.
The income reduction is forcing farmers to shift to other crops. Walnut and apple orchards have replaced much of the saffron land now.
The causes for the decline of saffron are many, like fungal disease, pollution from cement industries and illegal stone crushers in the area, encroachment on saffron by the land mafias and illegal constructions. However, climate change is the most paramount cause. As per the findings of researchers, the ideal temperature required for the flowering is 17degree Celsius, but from the past several years, we have above normal (normal is 17 degree Celsius) temperature in the month of October, in which flowering takes place.
This year the temperature in the month of October remained constantly above normal, between 23-27 degrees Celsius. The rising temperature is a global phenomena and cannot be fought but only be mitigated. For saffron, water is the only mitigation measure which can save the crop from vanishing. If proper irrigation is given to saffron in the month of September, the crop may show some efflorescence.
The much hyped 413 crore(s) Saffron Mission has till now failed to mitigate the causes. As per data available with the Agriculture Department, a total of 128 bore wells were to be dug under saffron mission in the whole Jammu and Kashmir, of which 109 bore wells were to be dug in the Pulwama District alone. Till now, 98 bore wells have been dug out in the Pulwama, and referred to Mechanical Irrigation Department (MID) to link sprinkler system with them. But, unfortunately only 12 wells have been linked with the sprinkler system and among them only 6 are presently functioning. The rest of the 6 wells have developed some problems and cannot be repaired as there is no such mechanism under the mission to repair the wells. Under the saffron mission, farmer’s communities were supposed to look after such a system. Till now, no such farmer’s communities have been created and if created in future, it is not clear where from such a community will receive the funds.
In such conditions, saffron is dying, caught in the vicious vortex of rising temperature and the administration’s lethargic and apathetic approach. If this apathy and callous approach continues, the days are not far when saffron in Kashmir will become history.

—Courtesy: KR
[The author is a student and a saffron grower. He can be reached at: wjavaid23@gmail.com]

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