October 2017 News

Saffron Production To Drop By 90%

31 October 2017
The Daily Excelsior
Suhail Bhat

Pampore: It's that time of the year, when the uplands of Pampore, a few kilometers Southeast of Srinagar, presents a breath-taking sight of fields full of purple coloured saffron flowers but Government's failure to make irrigation facilities functional have rendered the fields deserted. With no traces of flower and a winter season ahead, the saffron growers are, probably, expecting the lowest ever crop yield this year. They said they are expecting only 5-10 percent crop yield this year, as the agricultural season was dry. The irrigation system would have mitigated the dry spell enabled growers to ward off the drought and its adverse effects on the production, they said. Majid Ahmad, a saffron grower, said that thousands of growers who are cultivating saffron over 3000 hectares of land would have availed the irrigation facility and it would have also doubled the production. 'It would have doubled the production but the authorities have failed to provide the irrigation facilities when growers need it,' he said. Castigating the Government over its failure to enable the irrigation facilities, he said: 'It's total failure on the part of Government as they have inflicted huge losses on the growers due to their poorly managed irrigation facilities. The irrigation system is in place but it is poorly managed,' he said, adding that plenty of irrigation wells have been dug but authorities have failed to put them to use. The irrigation system consists of laying the water supply pipes and installing the sprinklers and the system was being set up to manage the drought issues affecting the area, according to Irrigation and Flood Control (I&FC) Department. Director, National Saffron Mission, Altaf Ahmad Andrabi, when contacted, admitted that failure of authorities to provide irrigation facilities to the growers might lead to seventy percent drop in the saffron production. 'I think the outsourcing did not work well. The digging of bore well and all the other mechanical part of the work was outsourced to the Mechanical Engineering Department who failed to deliver on time and that caused the delay,' he said. The saffron is a small purple flower that blooms every fall in the uplands of Pampore but unplanned urbanization and Government's failure to implement the multi-crore 'Saffron Mission' has put this precious crop in peril. In order to increase saffron production and to bring more land on saffron cultivation, Government of India sanctioned an ambitious Rs 400 crore National Saffron Mission in the year 2010.The scheme was launched by the Centre in partnership with the State with the aim of raising production from 3 kg to 5 kg per hectare but even after eight years, the scheme is yet to make an impact on the status of the crop. In last eight years, Government has drilled nearly 90 bore wells needed for the irrigation of saffron field but a majority of then lay defunct. Officials in Agriculture Department said that the mission envisaged establishing 109 bore wells with 100 per cent project support. 'But till date, only 90 bore wells have been dug,' said an official. 'And ironically, only four of them are fully functional,' he added. Abdul Ahad Kuchay, another saffron grower, said that he used to get more than two kilograms of saffron every year 'but this time I don't think I would even get 300 grams'. 'The mission has destroyed our crop more than anything has. We were getting good produce by practicing the traditional ways of farming. Saffron is a kind of crop that grows in natural conditions. Any interference with it destroys the crop. They (officials) asked us to use cow dung, fertilizers and other things. But all these methods have been unsuccessful,' he added. However, some growers alleged that Government's inability to aware the farmers about the modern farming techniques and lackadaisical approach to make irrigation pumps functional has put the whole mission on crossroads. 'There were no awareness camps wherein the grower would have learnt about the recent techniques and lack of demonstration plots has affected the entire mission,' said Ghulam Rasool, a grower. When asked about the present drastic decrease in the production, Ghulam Rasool said: 'Drought and lack of irrigation facilities have affected the production. Had the authorities made all the bore wells functional on time things would have been different. I irrigated my 4-5 kanals of land myself and received a good produce. In the 2-3 kanals of land which I irrigated myself I received nearly eight kilograms of saffron but I received almost nothing from the rest of my land.' Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) Pampore Zahoor Ahmed Mir, who is also MoS, said last month he had called a high-level meeting and ordered the implementation agencies to make the irrigation facility available by the end of December this year. 'From Agriculture Minister to the Mission Director, I called everyone to seek reasons behind this inordinate delay in making all the bore wells functional. They have been given a time of two months to make the irrigation facility functional and if they fail to do so, we will take action,' Mir told Excelsior. Asked why it took eight years for the State to provide the irrigation facilities to the saffron growers, he said: 'There are multiple reasons behind this delay. Initially, the growers did not allow the authorities to lay the irrigation pipes through their fields and it took us a lot of time to convince them. The unrest of 2010, floods of 2014 and the unrest of 2016 equally dented the project,' he said.