Srinagar, Jan 5: Bashir Ahmad, 70, vividly remembers the purple bloom on his six hectares of land at Pampore, two decades back.
However, days of glory are over. The old farmer is consumed by worries in present times. Each year, the saffron crop has shown a decline due to unprecedented weather conditions and lack of proper irrigation facilities.
“There have been persistent dry conditions in the last few years especially after 2010. Had there been irrigation facilities available, we would not have been dependent on rainfall. The government does not show much concern for the prized crop. The authorities are not implementing schemes properly. People also sold a large part of saffron land on which constructions have been built,” he said.
Bashir too has sold two hectares of saffron land after yield started to decline. “We were completely dependent on the money we earn by selling saffron crop. But there has been drastic decline in its production,” he said.
Data of Agricultural department reveals that the area under saffron cultivation declined from 5707 hectares in 1996-97 to 2462 in 2018-19. Similarly, the production of saffron crop has fallen from 15.95 metric tonnes to two metric tonnes over these years.
Abdul Majid Wani, President Saffron Growers Association, said that the production of world’s expensive spice has been on decline due to lack of irrigation facilities. “Moreover, large tracts of cultivable land have been converted to non-agricultural purposes,” he said.
Saffron flowers are sensitive to vagaries of the weather. Its production depends on the weather conditions and the irrigation facilities.
“Orthodox cultivations methods coupled with various biotic and abiotic stresses, poor plant stand and change in weather pattern resulted in moisture stress at the terminal growth stages. These were the main factors responsible for decline in crop yields which evaded interests of farming community to pursue saffron cultivation,” reads an official document accessed by The Kashmir Monitor.
To give boost to the saffron production, Union Ministry of Agriculture and Production started ‘National Mission on Saffron’ in 2010 for seven years with a project cost of Rs 400.11 crore. So far, the government has utilized only Rs 200.30 crore.
Unable to meet the March 2019 deadline, Centre has extended the period of completion by March 2020.
Director Agriculture Department, Kashmir, Altaf Aijaz Andrabi, blamed the saffron growers for “not coming forward” to get benefits under the scheme.
“The saffron production has been increased. However, the irrigation component of the scheme has not been completed yet. Saffron growers are also not coming forward to get benefit under the scheme,” Andrabi said.
Andrabi said land mafia was creating hurdles for laying of pipe network for irrigation facilities. “Of the 126 tubewells to be constructed, 116 have been completed. There is requirement of 124 sprinkler system and we are in the process of meeting that target as well,” he said.