SHAH KHALID

Decline in Saffron Production & its Impact on State Economy

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The State of Jammu and Kashmir is globally acknowledged due to its cultivation of famous crops, especially saffron. Horticulture sector is considered to be the back bone of state’s economy. The industrial sector in the state is mostly private and some of them are Public Sector Undertakings, which ultimately leaves people dependent upon agriculture sector for their income and livelihood security. Saffron is one of the high value, low volume cash crop predominately cultivated in the Karewa’s of Pampore.

This historic township of Pampore is situated on the eastern side of river Jhelum on Srinagar-Jammu National highway. For its saffron, it is also known as “Saffron Town of Kashmir”. This saffron township has a table-land (Wuder) in and around. In fact Kashmir is considered one among the three top and prominent cultivating places for saffron all over the world. Kashmiri saffron is seen as the legend of saffron species and is valued all over the world for its fine quality. People of Pampore are fond of saying that there is a certain magical element in the soil of Pampore which help the flowers to bloom and the stigmas to be imbued with aroma. Pampore has the proud privilege of being one of the places where this golden crop grows.

The state of Jammu and Kashmir tops the list of the saffron growing states in India. In India out of the total 5,707 hectares of land used for saffron cultivation, 4,496 hectares lay exclusively in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. But the saffron fields that earn handsome revenue for the state are fast shrinking. As now the 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 the sole factor affecting saffron fields in the area that cause degradation of saffron productivity. The conversion of saffron land into residential and commercial apartments, which is violation of sec-133A of Land Revenue Act is a major concern. Besides that, dozens of Cement factories and other industrial units have come up in Pampore outskirts, have wreaked havoc with the saffron fields.

The unabated acquisition of land by central and state government, absence of proper housing policy in the state, lack of irrigation facilities, lack of counseling session by State Agri-department, lack of proper soil testing, improper grading, are also some major concerns that are impacting the saffron fields to the worrying levels. 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 Karewa’s of other villages like Dussu, wuyan, konibal, Ladhoo, Chandhara and other villages also.

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. The state government did not pay any heed to all such concerned so that the local farmers would have got a fair remuneration. Meanwhile, the State Government while keeping in view the importance of Saffron industry and its better outcome in economic development, had taken some measures under Economic revival of saffron under 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.

This ‘golden crop’ provides livelihood to thousands of families in Pampore village’s directly and indirectly. So concentrated and collaborative efforts are needed to save this crop.The concerned authorities must provide Technical knowhow and high yield seeds, so that growers can abandon the permetative modes of cultivation, as it was grown in the traditional way. The state Agriculture Department must come up with counseling sessions with the growers and special financial packages should be made available in the Annual-budget for development of this prestigious crop. Scientific laboratories must be developed, so that distress free and fresh varieties of the seeds are made available for the encouraging poor and needy growers 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 start a demolition drive against illegal constructions which have come up on saffron lands. The State Pollution Control Board must do a random inspection of cement plants and other industrial units to ensure that they are not hazardous to the fields and in case these are, they must be banned. The cement dust, massive road widening, illegal construction and horizontal expansions of housing colonies are major concerns. A lot is therefore needed from the concerned authorities to save this ‘golden crop’ from chocking and dying.

(Author is freelance Journalist, having a Diploma in Journalism & Mass Communication from MANUU Hyderabad, presently pursuing Electrical Engineering at IUST Campus, Awantipora)

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