Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Wither Saffron

An editorial in the Rising Kashmir raises some pertinent concerns and suggests remedies

Urgent steps need to be taken to increase the production of saffron and revolutionize its marketing.

The threat to cash crops, in Kashmir is now real. If trends that we are witnessing in agriculture, including the production and development of cash crops are not reversed, Kashmir is bound to face shortage in food and dwindling revenue from cash crops. Despite good crop of walnuts, saffron, almonds this season the government is not paying the deserved attention to these cash crops. The stagnation in the yield of saffron is a reflection of where the prized unique cash crop is heading to. Various factors are underlined for the decline in production over the years.

The fields of saffron are in full bloom these days but looking at its production over the last five years it emanates that the crop has suffered in recent years due to inadequate irrigation facilities, persistent drought, absence of modern farming techniques, under-marketing of the product, absence of quality checks and most important of all the apathy of the government towards this prized crop. According to the data available, an acre yielded 2.5 kgs of saffron compared to 900gms today. Second, the land under saffron plantation has decreased from 5000 acres in mid eighties to less than 3000 acres presently with an average holding by farmers being 0.56 hectares. In this modern age operations for saffron cultivation are being carried out manually using indigenous tools mainly Ramba for weeding and around 600-625 man days/hectare are consumed from seedbed to drying of saffron.

These facts lead to three things: One, land available for saffron cultivation is declining .Two, yield per acre is falling and three, the crop is not fetching the desired revenue for farmers. These factors are interlinked. In some areas the farmers are switching to other crops for niche markets. Does it call for some effective measures that can be the starting point for improving the productive capacity of this crop? First and foremost is the change in the plantation techniques through adoption of wheel hoes, power weeders and power tillers for weeding and hoeing saffron, use of solar dryers and electrically heated saffron and other modern techniques for improved production. Next are the initiatives from the government that might include grading standard for saffron and marketing it according to its quality, applying for listing of saffron in commodity exchanges of India. Long time back the government had mooted an idea of setting up laboratory for certifying the quality of saffron which still has not taken root. The third factor is the marketing and packaging of the product; here the growers with the support of the government can market their produce in Kashmir branded packs and market it to retail chains across markets in India. The aspect of irrigation needs immediate attention as the crop has suffered a lot due to lack of irrigation facilities.

The state government should make a beginning by extending the irrigation facilities to areas that need it the most. A new cadre of farm scientists has to be created to enable the transfer of technology from labs to farms, it is here that SKUAST can play a positive role in developing cutting edge farming techniques and disease resistant varieties in saffron like they have developed for Walnut, to revolutionize the cultivation of saffron. After all a good harvest can result after the corns are well nurtured.

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