SRINAGAR: The saffron industry in Kashmir is facing a slump as its cultivation has slowed down over the past few years, forcing many growers in the saffron rich township of Pampore in South Kashmir to shift to the horticulture sector. This correspondent saw many saffron fields in Pampore being converted to fruit orchards.

There are multiple factors responsible for the decline in saffron produce and one of the prime factors is climate change. Under the National Saffron Mission Scheme (NSMS), the Central government, in the past few years, had promised to provide sprinkling water pipes along with bore wells in the all areas of South Kashmir, especially Pampore.

An agriculture official told The Sunday Guardian that presently, saffron was being cultivated in only 5,000 kanals of land and the families dependent on this trade have switched to other crops for their livelihood. “The aim of the NSMS was to irrigate the saffron fields and also provide market support to the saffron growers. Unfortunately, it has not shown adequate results so far,” said a retired official of the agriculture department, who was involved in the Mission scheme.

Chief Agriculture Officer of Pulwama Muhammad Qasim Ghani told the media recently that the damage caused to the saffron crop due to the recent snowfall has been up to 35% to 40%. Although timely rainfall was good for saffron cultivation, untimely snow in the first week of November destroyed the bulk produce in Pampore fields, inflicting heavy losses on saffron farmers.

Abdul Majeed Wani, president of the Saffron Growers Association, recently told the media: “We had high hopes on the current season, but untimely snowfall damaged our crops. At first, we suffered due to poor irrigation system and now, nature has wrecked havoc on our business.”

Ajaz Ahmad Mir has switched to other businesses. He said, “Though the government officials had claimed that they had distributed a few hundred crores among saffron growers since 2010, we had to buy new saffron seeds. There are complaints about money being laundered by the officials.”

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