Attention on the pricey crop of saffron, facing a sharp decline in production in Kashmir despite the R376 crore Prime Minister's National Saffron Renewal Mission, is being renewed through a novel idea this year.
South Kashmir's Pampore saffron dunes, owned by 16,000 families in 226 villages, was abuzz with festivities on Tuesday as the government organised the first-ever festival to put the saffron fields on the state's tourist map.
It was also aimed at putting the spotlight on the struggling crop, which fetches only R 236 crore as land under its cultivation has come down from 5,707 hectares in 1996 to just 3,715 hectares in 2009-10. The productivity too has come down from 3.13 kg per hectares to 2.5 kg per hectares.
The prime minister's four-year renewal mission, started in 2010, expects to push the revenue through saffron production to R 4,642 crore.
"The main objective of organising the festival is not only to promote the rare and world famous saffron of Kashmir but also to encourage and support the educated youth in taking up tourism-related entrepreneurial activities," said state tourism minister Ghulam Ahmad Mir.
Mir's ministry is organising a three-day festival in the fields of Pampore, 10 km south of Srinagar, amid the unending dunes, with tall mountains decorating the skyline.
From flower plucking to processes of saffron crop, the festival will showcase cultural programmes, laughter shows and painting competition.
The tourism ministry is providing 50% rebate on lodging and transport charges to the tourists visiting Kashmir to attend the festival.
On the sidelines of the festivities, there are murmurs of disappointment. The farmers, who see at least 15% dip in production, claim the crop yield is not going up despite the saffron renewal mission.
"Last year, I earned a profit of R2 lakh from saffron crop from 60 kanals of land. This year, the crop yield has gone down," said Bilal Ahmad, a farmer.
Farmers blame rampant urbanisation, archaic methods of agriculture modern and inadequate irrigation for the decline.
The government refutes the farmers' claim. "Under this (saffron) project, we have arranged bore-wells in the saffron growing belts. And we are digging bore-wells and when the bore-wells would be dug, water will be available in the fields and then the quality of flowers would improve," said state agriculture minister Gulam Hassan Mir.
The prime minister's saffron renewal mission covers drip irrigation, research, mechanisation, processing and marketing support to ease the crisis.
The government is planning to have 253 tube wells irrigate 30 hectares. Of them 128 tube wells would be in Pulwama and 106 in Budgam districts. It will also make available over 3,700 sprinkler sets to the farmers with 50 percent subsidy.
Factoids about saffron
1)Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus Sativus, commonly known as the Saffron Crocus.
2After plucking of flowers, the stigmas are separated and sun dried
3)Each saffron crocus grows to 20-30 cm (8-12 in) and bears up to four flowers, each with three vivid crimson stigmas, which are each the distal end of a carpel.
4)Saffron is one of the world's most costly spice by weight.
5)It can take 75,000 saffron blossoms to produce a single pound of saffron spice.
6)The blooming time of this flower is autumn. Saffron has a unique sweet smell.
7)The saffron cost varies from R 1 to 2 lakh per kg