Saffron Mission failure

For quality and other attributes Kashmir saffron remains the most cherished agricultural product because from commercial point of view saffron is the richest yield we have. The story of saffron cultivation goes back to ancient times. Saffron has religious, medicinal and decorative significance. The high priests not only in more famous but even in ordinary temples are among the frontline buyers of saffron because of its religious significance. Its offering is made to the gods. Its use in Hindu rituals is well known. As a medicinal herb, Atharva Veda speaks of its significance. Caravans laden with merchandise from Kashmir would join the fabulous Silk Road trade of ancient times carried Kashmir saffron to the Eurasian markets.
This much may be said about the name and fame of Kashmir saffron. But it should not be thought that Kashmir is the only place in the world where saffron is produced. An excellent quality of saffron is produced in Spain. In Kashmir saffron is grown in one particular area, a plateau in the periphery of the town of Pampore. Its soil has special quality not to be found elsewhere in Kashmir. Cultivation of saffron is a skill known to saffron growers. Six years ago in 2010, the Union Government devised a plan called National Saffron Mission with the objective of quantitatively increasing the production of saffron so that the growers make bigger earning. It was expected that under the mission the increase per hectare of land would be five kilograms instead of two kilograms. Consequently, the enterprise was allotted 400 crore rupees way back in 2010. Six years down the line, we find that the Mission has made no headway whatsoever. Not to speak of increase per hectare, according to information available to us this year the production of the stuff has fallen by 60 per cent. This is very alarming. For the saffron growers it spells disaster. There are reports that owing to downslide in the production many farmers have sold their lands so that they would invest money in other items of business.
A number of reasons are attributed to the downfall in production. Local farmers say that owing to urbanization, lands under saffron cultivation are shrinking which has led to the decrease in the production. It is also believed that owing to the ongoing unrest in Kashmir valley for last four months, timely cultivation of saffron suffered set back. But the real reason for the decrease in the production is the lack of water to irrigate the plants. Under the National Mission for Saffron, it was decided that 109 wells would be bored with the project support. Out of proposed number of 109 bore wells only 90 have been dug and only 6 of these are functional. This is a sordid story of inefficiency of the State Government in implementing the plan called National Saffron Mission. We are unable to understand why this scheme could not take off. Did not the expert understand that water level in the bore wells would not be that satisfactory as to provide sufficient water needed for plantation? If they knew, why did they go ahead?
One important point needs to be touched upon. It has always been found that tampering with the nature is seldom a success. Experience with tampering of Kashmir apple is an example. Scab disease could hardly be eradicated from apple crop. The scab could not be controlled easily and huge expenditure on preventive measures had to be incurred which was beyond the capacity of ordinary farmers. In the same way tampering with the age old tradition of saffron cultivation has become counterproductive. In these circumstances it becomes difficult to make any suggestion what the Government and especially the Agriculture Department should do to save saffron from extinction. Now the question is not of increasing the production but of protecting what remains.

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