Saffron-growers smile again

Pampore Oct. 28 . As full-grown purple flowers of the saffron sway in the breeze, the smiles are back on the faces of the farmers of Pampore.

Located on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway, Pampore is home to world's most expensive spice — saffron, better known as Kesar locally.

Due to the unseasonal rains last year the crops failed and farmers had to bear heavy losses.

However, this year the harvest is on schedule — the last week of October. There is a big demand for saffron in Kashmir. No Kashmiri dish is complete without saffron and even for the famous Kashmiri `Keva' it is a vital ingredient. However, despite the local demand, some quantity does make its way to the European market.

With the growing demand, the area under saffron cultivation has jumped to 5000 hectares in the last one decade.

A kilogram of saffron fetches Rs. 35,000 in the local market. However, its extraction is not easy. It is a painstaking job removing the stigmas. Extraction from over 1.5 lakh flowers makes one kilogram.

Mohd. Ramzan, an 81-year-old saffron-grower, says the crop has been grown for centuries in Kashmir and thousands of families depend on it for their livelihood.Mohammad Aziz is all smiles as his fields adjoining the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway, are swaying with the purple flowers.

Saffron cultivation is labour intensive and calls for expertise, as the crop is fine and delicate. Farmers do not enlist casual labour.

The farmers say that over the years there has been a decline in yield.

Most of the saffron fields are located on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway and the farmers blame vehicle pollution for the losses. The soil too had lost its fertility due to repeated cultivation of the crop.

In Kashmir, the practice was to alternate saffron growing with paddy cultivation, which recharges the soil with organic material. But this has not been followed in practice.

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