Undoubtedly, our country has made great strides in the field of social and economic development since independence. We have achieved new heights in the fields of agriculture and horticulture. Still there is an urgent need of taking concrete steps at the grass root level so that people attached with agriculture and horticulture get more profit from their professions.
No one can deny the fact that agriculture has an important role to play in the economy of Jammu and Kashmir. Eighty per cent population of this state lives in villages and depends on agriculture.
The state can not progress unless the economic condition of this vast majority improves and the standard of living of people gets enhanced. Agriculture itself is a vast field. It's like a tree which has endless branches. One among them is related to saffron cultivation.
Saffron has several names-Zafran, Kesar, Kang, Kang Posh etc. Kang posh, the flowers of Saffron is a symbol of freshness and purity. The vast stretches of saffron fields give the impression of a newly wedded bride draped in a saffron shawl taking a nap. Kashmir is known as the valley of flowers. Among several varieties of flowers grown here, saffron has its own importance and utility.
Historically, the cultivation of saffron started around three or four centuries back in Arabia and Spain. Thereafter, its cultivation spread as far as Iran, Sweden and India. Now, saffron growing is a great commercial activity. In Indian agriculture, this activity is also known as "Golden Zest".
The cultivation of saffron is a traditional art. In India, 5,707 hectares of land comes under its cultivation. Its annual production is around sixteen thousand kilograms. The state of Jammu and Kashmir tops the list of the saffron growing states in India. it can be gauged from the fact that out of the total 5,707 hectares of land under its cultivation 4,496 hectares lie exclusively in Jammu and Kashmir.
In Kashmir, Pampore, which is situated at a distance of 15 kilometers from Srinagar, is famous the world over for its high grade saffron. Saffron is also grown, though in a limited scale, in Kishtwar of Jammu. Pampore and its neighboring areas produce an average of 2,128 kilograms of saffron every year.
Sir Water Lawrence, in his book "The Valley of Kashmir" has written about saffron. He undertook a detailed study of the cultivation of saffron and its utilities. He writes people from different parts of Kashmir used to thromg Pampore for the cultivation of Saffron. Now, this is the exclusive preserve of the local population. Increasingly, saffron then used to be sold at a price of one rupee a tola. He adds that till 1923, the maximum production of saffron was recorded in the Naga area of Pampore.
Now the average earning from its cultivation is from 30 to 40 crore rupees. Hence, after the production of fruits, the cultivation of saffron is the second largest activity in the state. So, it is necessary that new techniques are used to promote the cultivation of saffron. Modern and scientific techniques must be used.
This is incumbent upon the state government and the agriculture scientists that they develop self confidence among the saffron growers. They must take sufficient interest in their education and training and encourage them. They must also help them in using the new techniques to preserve their produce.
The difficulties saffron growers have to face normally in the state is not only that the production is less then the investment, but the diseases are also a big problem. Scientifically, this is critical to make proper arrangement for proper diagnosis of several diseases found in saffron trees. Several diseases are common in saffron such as Corm Rot, Dry Rot, Root Rot, Bacteria Rot, Ring Rot, Charcoal Rot, Mosaic etc.
Corm rot among these diseases is perceived as most deadly. A few years back, a survey was conducted in Pulwama district of Kashmir in this regard. As a result, it was found that the disease was more prevalent in certain villages. To contain this and other diseases the agriculture experts must be contacted and their advice must be put to good use. The expert of the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agriculture Science and Technology could rightly guide the saffron growers. By seeking their expert views, the saffron plants could be saved from the onslaught of different diseases. Its production could also be enhanced.
In Jammu and Kashmir, saffron is normally sown in August and till the 15th of September. The flowers are plucked in October and November. During harvesting or plucking of flowers, the atmosphere must not be hot. So, this process is completed early in the morning. From sunrise to 10 AM is perceived the ideal time for flower plucking. After harvesting, the flowers are kept for drying for 5 days. Afterwards, they are kept in an airy container so that the quality of the produce does not deteriorate. Now-a-days solar drier is also used. It takes only seven, eight hours to dry the produce.
Locally, one kilogram saffron consists of around one lakh sixty thousand to one lakh seventy thousand tiny flowers. It's so tiring a job, and time consuming too.
To enhance the production of saffron a few things must be considered:
Provision of good quality and high yield seeds. Extension in the area of cultivation and production. Extensive use of solar drier and air drier. Financial help for the purchase of these apparatus. Appropriate training for packing the produce. The expert's total and equal cooperation and coordination with the saffron growers.
Marketing is also one of the main problems. An average saffron grower finds it troublesome to sell the small quantity of his produce. The grading and packing individually is not highly profitable. The cultivator has scarce resources. So, this is necessary that cooperative societies are formed to sell the saffron at remunerative prices.
A proper strategy must be devised and the whole activity must be so organized that the average saffron growers gets full benefits of his toils.