(Mr.Sheikh Jaleel is Managing Director of Jaybee Agro Industries Pvt. Ltd. in the Saffron town of Pampore, Kashmir)
SAFFRON: It’s Withering!
Kashmiri saffron is said to be the best in the world, a product of the ideal light climate and soil conditions. It has a pleasant fragrance and a distinct and unique deep red orange/gold colour together with a rich flavor. The crocus flower is a lovely shade of pastel purple which is harvested in a two week period in early November. The word saffron derives from the Arab word zafaran, meaning yellow, and it was mentioned as far back as 1500 B.C. in many classical writings, as well as in the Bible. Further derivations come from the Old French safran, Medieval Latin safranum, and Middle English safroun. It is native to Asia Minor, where it has been cultivated for thousands of years to be used in medicines, perfumes, dyes, and as a wonderful flavoring for foods and beverages. Saffron has been used medicinally to reduce fevers, cramps and enlarged livers, and to calm nerves. It has also been used externally for bruises, rheumatism, and neuralgia. Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world. Therefore, having any saffron is better than having no saffron. But it seems the death of our hereditary cash crop saffron is imminent due to various factors:
1. The Pampore-green belt has been witnessing land grabbing, digging of karewas, using modern techniques to transfer its soil form one place to another.
2. A number of industrial units have come up in the area since 1982 exuding smoke and dust particles that stagnate in the local atmosphere for a longer period of time as the area is surrounded by high mountains from two sides in the east and north. Since the normal wind in Kashmir Valley blows from west to east, Action Aid’s investigations in the area have revealed that the smoke remains trapped for a longer time, increasing the temperature in its lower atmosphere because of larger amounts of warmer gases present in the air. The absence of any tree cover over the surrounding mountains compounds the problem, the presence of which could have offset the excess carbon content in the air.
3. The rapid decrease of land available for saffron production prompted the state government to pass a law banning the sale of or use of saffron land for any other purposes.
4. With growing urbanization in Pampore belt the Saffron industry is facing grave threat in the state as Government has failed to put standing laws into practice to stop constructions on the saffron land. Recently Mr. Shailender Kumar, Director DAC, Government of India visited Saffron belt in Pampore area and issued on spot directions to state authorities for formal handing over and taking over of land for Saffron park and Quality Testing lab at Dussu and same be furnished to National Horticulture Board in order to enable the construction work on park and lab. During the deliberations it was also proposed that 72 tube wells should be taken up for construction to provide timely irrigation facilities to the saffron. There has, however, been cent percent achievement in vermin compost units and in demonstration plots during 2011. The Mission could revolutionize the saffron industry provided the conversion of the land is stopped by Government. The much talked about National Saffron Mission is likely to face the rough weather in this belt in case the rapid urbanization is not contained and serious steps are not taken by the Government in this regard. No doubt National Saffron Mission helped a lot to the people but not even a single awareness camp is being organized to aware the people about its main aims that is to grow the saffron more organically. Villagers in Pampore allege that authorities have failed to take the necessary steps to promote saffron cultivation and have had a hand in decreasing the amount of land available to grow saffron – a move that has hindered the local economy. This combined with the drought-like conditions of the last few years has forced many growers to sell or abandon their land. From 7000 hectares in Pampore tehsil, the land under saffron cultivation has reduced to 3600 hectares. While before few decades one hectare of land would yield around 10 kilograms of saffron, at present only around two kilograms per hectare are produced. Officially, Kashmir was producing around 40 tonnes of saffron but now it has come down to around 12 tonnes.
5. Another factor is the HPCL plant and the gas turbines in Pampore that releases nitrogenous effects and pollutes our pious land which also leads to decline in the saffron yield.
Many other causes which leads to destruction of our ancestral cash crop saffron is the fraudsters and fake dealers in the market which are not being registered by the government of Jammu and Kashmir. We are not against the EXIM policies of government that Iranian saffron should be totally banned to import in Kashmir but the buyer seller meetings, exhibitions should be organized so that it could give the promotion to our ancestral industry.