SRINAGAR: “If it doesn’t rain in Kashmir in the next 10-15 days, we may lose the saffron crop forever,” warns Firdous Ahmad Nehvi, Supervising Scientist, National Saffron Mission (NSM). This year, Kashmir witnessed an extended spell of dry weather ahead of the saffron season, hitting productivity.
Saffron, a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus or saffron crocus, is known for its use in medicines and in cooking. It is one of the most popular ingredients for colouring and flavouring Kehwa, a popular Kashmiri tea preparation, as well as butter, cheese and various dishes of Wazwan, the multi-course Kashmiri meal.
Kashmir is known for saffron, but the yield witnessed a sharp decline this year. As against 16 tonnes of yield in 2013 and 12.5 tonnes in 2012, this year the yield is negligible. “We don’t have figures for this year, it was nothing,” said Nehvi.
Total area under saffron cultivation in the Valley is 3,715 hectares. A kilogram of dry saffron fetches around `1.80 lakh. Mohammad Ayoub Rather, a saffron grower in Chandhara, Pampore, said that saffron flowers blossom between October 20 and November 20.
Pampore, a sleepy hamlet in south Kashmir, accounts for a major chunk of saffron production in the state because of its soil and altitude. Rather, who has 70-80 kanals of saffron fields, said the yield this year was only 10-20 per cent of what it was last year. “Our saffron yield used to be 6-7 kg per year. However, this year our yield was only 1,200 grams. We used to earn in lakhs. But now we are losing money, as well as faith in the NSM,” he said.
Rather blamed the dry weather conditions and lack of irrigation facilities for the poor saffron production this year. In view of deficient rains, the `371-crore NSM was launched in 2010 to prevent a decline in saffron production in Kashmir. The project was launched for five years, but the Central government extended it by two years in 2015. The NSM scientists had proposed setting up irrigation facilities in saffron fields in view of the deficient rains.
At least 128 borewells had to be drilled for irrigation through sprinklers in the fields. Seven years ago, the state agriculture department had asked the mechanical engineering department to set up sprinkler irrigation systems in saffron fields. However, the process has not been completed, with the pipes being laid in some places, while no work has been undertaken yet in others.
Nazir Ahmad Shah of Shaar, Pampore, said the extended dry spell and government’s failure in providing sprinkler irrigation system was a death blow to them. “Last year we suffered a loss of around 70 per cent in terms of productivity. This year, the loss is going to be around 95 per cent,” he said. The flower of the saffron plant is purple in colour and bears orange or red stigmas, which when dried become the valuable spice.
Nehvi said the saffron fields should have received about 2,300 cubic metres of water for a good yield. “We had hoped to get 1,300 cubic metres of water from this year’s rain. We hoped that 1,000 cubic metres could be had through sprinklers.
However, there was no rain this year, and neither was the sprinkler system functional. It led to the failure of the saffron crop,” Nehvi said. According to him, a certain amount of water is required for saffron to germinate. If the seeds do not germinate and grow into plants, there would be no seeds to grow saffron next year. “The more the rain gets delayed, the more the yield will be hit,” he said.
Kashmir got no rainfall after August 13 this year. “There was zero precipitation. Besides, the temperature was five degrees above normal,” Nehvi said. Abdul Majeed, president of All J&K Saffron Growers Association, said this year, the Valley has seen the worst production of saffron in 50 years. The government had last year promised to make 40 borewells functional by July or August 2017, but not even one borewell was working, Majeed said. He said that around 19,000 families in south Kashmir were involved in saffron farming, and their livelihood had been affected.
Sandeep Kumar Naik, Principal Secretary, Agricultural Production, said that at its peak, saffron production in Kashmir stood at 17 tonnes. This year, there would be very little production, which he blamed on the dry spell.
Asked why a sprinkler irrigation system had not been made operational so far, Naik said, “The mechanical engineering department has been given the responsibility, but there has been a delay of two years. The farmers initially did not allow to lay pipes for sprinkler irrigation, fearing it would damage their fields,” he said, adding the system would be in place by the month-end.
What is saffron?
A spice derived from the flower of crocus sativus. The flower of saffron plant is purple in colour, with orange or red stigma.
King of spice: Saffron is one of the most popular ingredients for colouring and flavouring Kashmir tea or kehwa.
It is used in various dishes of wazwan, the multi-course Kashmiri cuisine. Saffron is an excellent food additive Sweet ingredient: Saffron is used in preparing sweet dishes such as kesar badam kheer and
Medicinal use: Saffron keeps blood pressure under control and treats cold and cough, stomach issues, uterine bleeding and insomnia