Kashmir's Saffron Growers In The Red

3 November 2015
The Hindu
Peerzada Ashiq

Srinagar: Despite the setting chill, south Kashmir's Pampore fields, situated on rare soil dunes, wear a festive look these days with young and old, irrespective of their professions and gender, singing and plucking the famed and prized saffron crop from a carpet of purple flowers. However, the disappointment on farmers' faces is visible as the Centre's Rs. 413-crore Prime Minister's National Saffron Renewal Mission has failed in its objective. Besides, the politician-backed land and soil excavation mafia is eating into the prized land in south Kashmir. 'Saffron yield has dropped again due to last year's flooding. Untimely rains and the absence of sprinkler systems during the dry season have also contributed to the situation. Yield is below two kg per hectare against the target of 4.5 kg,' Abdul Majeed Wani, president of the All J&K Saffron Growers Development Cooperative Marketing Association, told The Hindu. Launched in 2010, the Centre intervened to rejuvenate the crop by introducing modern methods - like grading of corms, soil improvement, incentives, education to farmers and controlled irrigation system - to push revenue earned from the crop to Rs. 4,642.50 crore from Rs. 236.55 crore. The Centre's intervention came in the backdrop of the saffron land cultivation coming down to 3,715 hectares in 2009-10 from 5,707 hectares in 1996. Besides, saffron produce showed sharp decline too from 3.13 kg per hectare to 2.50 kg per hectare. However, till date, cultivation has been taken under the scheme only on 2,100 hectares out of 3,715 hectares. Also, distribution of mechanised tools among farmers has not been up to the mark. It is the absence of controlled sprinkling of water, a major component of the scheme, which is telling upon the crop yield. 'Around 90 borewells have been sunk up but are yet to be connected,' said Mr. Wani. The renewal mission envisaged 253 tube wells to irrigate saffron land in Pulwama and Budgam districts. It was supposed to make available over 3,700 sprinkler sets to the farmers on 50 per cent subsidy, but it is yet to take off. Around 36 villages in Khrew, Pampore and Budgam depend on the revenue from the saffron fields. 'The Centre need to engage with us constantly for our feedback to make this mission a success,' said Mr. Wani. Talking to The Hindu, Director, Agriculture, Altaf Ajaz Andrabi , said: 'We are working against odds. We face threats from land mafia, who constantly change the land use despite strict laws. We have now decided to act tough. We confiscated trucks and other soil digging machines,' said Mr. Andrabi. He attributed last year's floods to the dip in yield. 'Last year's floods devastated the saffron corms. We failed to retrieve as per our assessment. Still we were able to have yield of 4.5 kg saffron per hectare in areas brought under the scheme. We are aiming at 6-7 kg per hectare,' said Mr. Wani. On failure to install sprinklers, Mr. Andrabi said, 'Farmers are reluctant to lay pipes. They have certain apprehensions about its implementation. We are forming village committees to educate farmers ,' said Mr. Wani. The Union government has now extended the deadline of the mission by two more years.