Saffron of one kind may be anathema to the UPA government, but in Kashmir, it's the right word to utter.
An economic package for Jammu and Kashmir — to cope with discontent — seeks to re-ignite the state's legendary saffron sector, which produces the world's most expensive herb by weight.
Economic stimulus has emerged as the key pillar of the UPA's strategy to deal with the state's unrest. Accordingly, a farm ministry mission, titled "Economic Revival of J&K Saffron Sector in Mission Mode" will be the first to be rolled out.
The mission, worth Rs 373 crore, was firmed up after the Prime Minister's Office asked various departments for proposals to crank up Kashmir's economy.
Saffron sells for Rs 2.7 lakh a kg in the domestic market and offers livelihood to people in four districts.
Despite being highly valued, Kashmir's saffron is on the "verge of extinction" due to a stuttering insurgency, spurious varieties smuggled in from Iran and outdated farming methods, according to a farm ministry document.
Acreage has dropped from 6,000 hectares in 1996 to 3,700 hectares. Output too has dipped to 2 kg a hectare from 4 kg.
"The mission is ready to roll out. We're awaiting the final go-ahead from the J&K government," Union agriculture secretary P.K. Basu said.
South Kashmir's Pulwama is the hub of Kashmir's saffron, considered one of the world's best varieties. Saffron gives biryani — an epicurean rice dish — its distinct flavour and has medicinal uses.
"Over the years, output has declined by 40 per cent," said Nissar Wani, a farmer from Pampore.
(With inputs from Peerzada Ashiq in Srinagar)