Pampore (Kashmir): Saffron fields are aglow with their priceless purple blooms,
bringing a whiff of a 500-year-old romance between a royal
horseman and a wandering beauty that blossomed amid the hills of
south Kashmir. But for saffron growers, regaining the state's lost
glory in saffron cultivation is no easy task.
For hundreds of families who depend for their sustenance on the
saffron crop the profits have been short-lived.
Saffron, one of the costliest spices of the world, is derived from
the dried stigmas of the flower. It is the only spice that is
derived from a flower.
Saffron is used as a colouring and seasoning agent. Some also use
the spice for its aphrodisiac properties.
The world's best quality saffron is grown in Spain and Kashmir.
But during the last many years, saffron cultivation has suffered
heavily in Kashmir.
"This happened because of crop diseases and adulteration of the
product for higher gains by unscrupulous traders," Mohiuddin, 54,
a saffron grower here, told IANS.
Others accused the government of neglecting this heritage crop of
"The government only rose to the occasion after our future was
destroyed. Now we are being trained and educated for using better
agricultural technology to protect the crop and produce better
harvests," said Abdul Rashid, 45, another saffron grower.
When the purple blooms arrive in November-December, the bygone
romance seems to come alive once more. A royal horseman - Kashmiri
King Yusuf Shah Chak - and a wandering beauty - Zoon - met amid
the saffron fields and fell in love at first sight in the 16th
Perhaps the early November moonlit night had wrought magic for the
couple that has since become part of Valley's folklore. Zoon, a
local woman, later became the poetess queen under the name of
A National Saffron Mission (NSM) was announced in November last
year to boost saffron production.
The Rs.376 crore (Rs.3.76 billion) ambitious NSM aims to offer
growers latest agricultural technologies, disease control,
management, bore-wells for better irrigation and quality control
to ensure that Kashmir saffron regains its lost glory.
As part of the NSM, Jammu and Kashmir Agricultural Minister Ghulam
Hassan Mir distributed cheques worth Rs.9.5 crore among the
saffron growers Wednesday.
"Ten grams of pure saffron costs Rs.1,000. But, unless quality
control is strictly enforced, the historic faith of the buyers in
Kashmir saffron cannot be restored," said Ali Muhammad, who grows
saffron in his fields in Gowharpora village in Pulwama district.
"We are providing all possible guidance and assistance to the
growers. Our field staff inspects the saffron crop," said an
official of the agriculture department.
"Growers are being trained for better cultivation and crop
maintenance and this year's results have been encouraging."
"We had a disease-free season this year after many years," he
Abdul Majid Wani, general secretary of the Saffron Growers
Association, told IANS that the production of saffron last year
was 6,000 kg. "This year it is expected to be less than 5,500 kg."
According to Wani, around 9,300 acres of land is under saffron
cultivation in the Valley.
Wani said under the NSM, latest technology is made available to
growers, but so far it has been employed only on some land. "Once
it is used on all the land, productivity is likely to go up."
Since growers sell it individually, he was unable to give a figure
to the total amount saffron sale fetched.
Although saffron cultivation needs both labour and skill, yet the
romance and the folklore attached to this crop in Kashmir has
created a poetic aura around the dazzling purple fields of Pampore
that have survived for more than five centuries.
(Sheikh Qayoom can be
contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)