For a Modi government looking to make inroads into the Kashmir Valley, saffron may just be the right word to utter.
South Kashmir’s Pulwama district is the hub of Kashmiri saffron, considered to be one of the world’s best varieties.
Saffron gives biryani — an epicurean rice dish — its distinct flavour, has medicinal properties and is sacred to Hinduism. The herb sells for Rs 2.70 lakh a kg in the domestic market alone and offers livelihood to people in at least four districts.
Despite being a high value commodity, Kashmiri saffron is a dying cash crop. Hammered by years of insurgency, poor agricultural practices and spurious varieties smuggled from Iran, the Muslim-dominated valley’s saffron farms are shrinking. Acreage has dropped from about 6,000 hectares in 1996 to around 3,700 hectares. Output too has dipped to 2kg a hectare from about 4kg.
“I quit the saffron trade because it was getting difficult to sustain,” Mir Ejaz Ahmed, a producer who wound up his farm in Pampore, said.
The NDA government is now crafting a saffron package for J&K — first mooted by the previous UPA government — as a high-profile development agenda to crank up Kashmir’s economy. Agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh launched a saffron park project at Pampore, Pulwama, recently.
The NDA government’s plan aims to raise productivity, spur exports by replacing farming techniques, providing international market access and installing an ISO-accredited lab for quality checks.
Political saffron can follow next.