Saffron growers of Kishtwar upset over ‘bias’ towards Valley

Jammu : Saffron growers in the remote mountainous district of Kishtwar in Jammu region claim they “grow the best saffron” but the “incentives go to Kashmiris”.

According to a statement of the agriculture department, Rs.8.70 crore was distributed as incentive under the National Mission on Saffron (NMS) among over 1,800 growers in south Kashmir area where saffron is cultivated. Growers of the spice in Kishtwar in Jammu region are upset as they “did not figure in the list of incentive recipients”.

Mohammad Ayub, a saffron grower in Pochhal village adjacent to Kishtwar, claimed lack of assistance by the agriculture department, “though this area produces best saffron not only in the state but in the world”.

Saffron grows once a year in September-October. The stigma of the delicate purple coloured flower is used as spice. “Our saffron is best because we pick the flower before sun rise … and that is one of the secrets of its quality, and the other factor is quality of soil,” Ayub said over telephone from Pochhal.

Ghulam Mohi-ud-din also owns a saffron field in the area and shares Ayub’s feelings over the “apathetic attitude of government towards saffron farmers of Pochhal.”

These farmers get about 2.5 to 3 kg of saffron from one acre of land. There is about 300 acres of land under saffron cultivation in Pochhal as against about 7,200 acres in Kashmir valley.

These farmers earn about Rs.1.5 lakh to Rs.2 lakh every year from saffron production. “You compare and see yourself… our saffron is better than that of not only Kashmir but that of Iran,” another grower, Ghulam Qadir Giri, said over telephone. “But government is giving preferential treatment to Kashmiri saffron growers.”

The chief agriculture officer of Kishtwar R.K. Hiteshi too agrees with the growers, traders and locals. “This area produces one of the best quality saffron in the world,” he says.

Hiteshi adds, “The agriculture department is giving all possible help in saffron cultivation in the area including training, holding camps, bore-wells for irrigation, providing fertilizers, manures and procuring machinery.”

The agriculture officer said that Kishtwar was marked under NMS and “We have prepared a plan of Rs.322.90 lakh under it which includes Rs.274 lakh for incentives to farmers.” The incentive of farmers is 70 percent of the cost incurred on the growth of saffron.

“The incentives will be paid to the saffron growers as soon as the plan is cleared by the government.”

National Mission on Saffron is aimed to increase productivity, maintaining quality and improving marketing facilities of saffron. Under the mission, Rs.372.18 crore will be spent over a period of four years, beginning 2010-11, in all the saffron-growing districts of the state, including Pulwama, Budgam and Srinagar in Kashmir and Kishtwar in Jammu.

The state produces 8.5 metric tonnes of saffron every year.

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