Saffron production has dropped by more than 50 percent, said Mohd. Ashraf Bhat, secretary, Jammu and Kashmir Saffron Growers’ and Dealers Association. “Lower yields have affected the livelihood of about 80 percent of the populace in the Kashmir valley,” Bhat said.
Saffron farmers now grow the crop on some 4000 acres and end up with about 25000 kilograms of saffron at the end of a season, Bhat said. Earlier, they harvested 60,000 kilograms of saffron from 5,000 acres, he said.
The ‘corm rot’ disease affects the soil and the crop, said Firdous Ahmad Nehvi, chief scientist at the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology.
A team of 20 scientists is working with saffron farmers to find a solution to their problem. The existing cultivable area of 4000 acres is being worked on using modern techniques. The Sher-e-Kashmir University has trained close to 5000 farmers in modern agricultural techniques up until now and is arranging workshops on a regular basis for the rest, Nehvi said.
“A lack of awareness among farmers is the reason for the occurrence of the disease. Farmers were accustomed to old farming techniques, including long planting cycles, no use of fertilizers and manure and the absence of modern equipment,” Nehvi said.
The government provides grants to the university, under the aegis of the National Saffron Mission, to help Kashmir’s farmers buy land, modern machinery and fertilizers at subsidized rates.
“We hope the disease would be eradicated in two years by which time we should have doubled the area under cultivation,” the chief scientist said.
Traders are hopeful too. “We are following their instructions with a hope that it would increase saffron yields and our income,” said saffron trader G.M.Pampore from Kashmir’s Pulwama district.