Climate change and slow implementation of the Rs.400 crore centrally sponsored National Saffron Mission (NSM) project has hit hard the traditional saffron growers in the Pampore belt of south Kashmir’s Pulwama where production of the costly spice is constantly declining.
Men, women, and children in the area are these days seen plucking the saffron flowers. Kashmir saffron has over the years ruled the domestic and international markets but now bad days of the growers have begun due to neglect of successive governments.
However, the administration led by Lt. Governor Manoj Sinha has taken steps to promote the produce and its marketing but the slow pace of implementation of NSM has caused considerable loss as the production of saffron has fallen for want of irrigation facilities.
Import of Iranian saffron that was cheaper was also another cause of loss to the Kashmiri growers of the spice. According to a report, production of saffron has fallen by about 65% in the past 20 years.
Khrew that was earlier known for the cultivation of superior quality of saffron has over the passage of time turned one of the most polluted areas in the valley as many cement manufacturing units were allowed to come up in the area turning the fertile lands barren.
The Rs.400 crore NSM launched by the center in 2010 to boost saffron cultivation has failed to yield the desired results although the five years project was extended by another 2 years in October 2015. The authorities are seeking further extension in the project life.
The report card of the project is dismal if one goes by the complaints of the saffron cultivators. However, officials connected with the Mission claim its success.
The NSM was launched in 2010 with an outlay of Rs.371 crore but it was later in 2015 enhanced to Rs.400 crore and its timeframe extended by two years.
What was worrying was that instead of rejuvenating saffron cultivation in Kashmir, the total area under saffron had declined to about 3700 hectares from the 5700 hectares in 1996.
Change of land use in the saffron growing areas was reportedly being done with impunity as land prices particularly in South Kashmir have considerably increased.
Those sticking to saffron cultivation were being hit hard by the climate. The valley faces long stretched dry spells or excess rain. Saffron is a very delicate crop and gets destroyed due to even little change of climate.
A little above 16,000 families were engaged in saffron cultivation in the valley against 19,000 a few years ago. About 7000 families in couple of villages offered their lands for rejuvenation of saffron under the NSM in 2012.
However, complaints have come that contrary to the aim of the NSM, not only the area under saffron has decreased but its yield per hectare has also fallen.
Saffron production in the state in 2015-2016 had fallen to nearly 10 ton against about 12 tons in 2010-2011 when the NSM was launched. Saffron is grown in Pulwama, Budgam, and Srinagar districts of the valley and Kishtwar in the Jammu division.
A minister had a few years ago asked the saffron growers to return to the traditional practices of cultivation as the NSM had proved useless.