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After five years and rupees 250 crores later, the ambitious National Saffron mission is proving a failure in the valley.
In the past five years of the programme that aimed to increase saffron production in the valley and to bring more land under saffron cultivation, not only the total production of saffron but also the yield per acre of land has decreased.
According the official figures, the productivity of the saffron for the year 2015-16 in the state has been 9.6 tonnes as compared to 11.5 tonnes for the year 2010-11, when the ambitious rupees 400 crore project was launched.
“This year we had less production because of the excessive rains during the flowering period of the crop. From the last two years the saffron crop has failed due to the excessive raining which affects the flowering of the crop and results in more vegetative growth,” Chief Agriculture Officer Pulwama Ghulam Mohidin Bhat told The Indian Express. Pulwama’s Pampore area is the saffron belt of Kashmir.
In 2010, the highly ambitious Rs 371.18 crore National Saffron Mission was sanctioned by the central government to prevent the declining production of saffron in the valley. The cost of the project was then escalated to Rs 411 crores. While the project was launched for five years, the centre approved its extension by two more years.
According to the officials of Department of Agriculture Jammu and Kashmir, 60 per cent of the total amount sanctioned under the project has already been spent.
In five years, the government has failed to set-up the bore wells needed for irrigation of saffron fields. Officials in agriculture department say that the mission envisaged establishing 109 borewells with 100 per cent project support. “But till date only 86 borewells have been dug,” said an official. “And ironically, only four of them are fully functional.”
The saffron farmers allege that the saffron mission has only worsened their prospects.
“Now, we have been using these ‘scientific methods’ for four-five years but the results are same,” said Ghulam Nabi Reshi, President of the Saffron Growers Association. “This experiment of government to revive this crop is a complete disappointment. We now feel that the traditional ways (of farming) were better”.
Another saffron farmer Feroz Ahmad says that the “National Saffron has destroyed our crop more than anything.”
“Saffron is a kind of crop that grows in natural conditions,” he said.
“Any interference with it destroys the crop. They (officials) asked us to use cow dung,fertilizers and other things. But all these methods have been unsuccessful,” he added.
Opposing the claims of farmers, the Nodal Officer National Saffron Mission Pulwama Nazir Ahmad Bhat terms it a huge success.
“The National Saffron Mission has brought a new life to this industry which some years back was on the brink of extinction,” Bhat said.
He, however, said there are some concerns like urbanization, pollution and illegal soil cutting of the saffron fields that are posing a serious threat to the industry.
The total area under cultivation of saffron in the valley has declined from 5,707 hectares in 1996 to 3,715 hectares in 2009-10 and now 3,674 hectares in 2015.
Overall 16,296 families are engaged with the saffron cultivation in the districts of Pulwama, Budgam and Srinagar.
The figures belie the claim of the officials of National Saffron Mission. While the land under cultivation of saffron has decreased by a meagre 1.10 per cent since the launch of saffron mission, the productivity has decreased by more than 16 per cent in the same period.