Kishtwar saffron needs due recognition
Saffron , we know, is at once synonymous with the valley of Kashmir especially of Pampore area although many areas in and around Pulwama too are growing saffron. The fact of the matter is that the production of saffron grown in Kashmir has declined by as much as 65 percent over the years. What are the causes is not the point in discussion here but the Government of Jammu and Kashmir has been focussing its attention only on Kashmir saffron to the extent of not only providing facilities of irrigation, professional guidance, support and opportunities of marketability but of late, providing GI tag or Geographical Identification to it so that its sale could be enhanced and at remunerative prices besides motivate more farmers towards cultivating the prized crop. We have no qualms about that , in fact, ‘Excelsior’ has been highlighting the difficulties faced by the saffron growers of Kashmir as also the initiatives of the Government to address them from time to time.
However, we must know that Kishtwar , equally a beautiful place of the UT, too is and has remained a traditional saffron growing area . We also know on comparative basis, Kishtwar is economically backward area and needed preferred attention from the Government in respect of developmental needs especially in its traditional agricultural avocation including that of growing quality saffron. The belief that only Kashmiri saffron was unique in its aroma, taste, texture and contents was a one sided study and belief and as such did not hold water when Kishtwar saffron was put in place to know that there was practically no difference between the two. In fact, historically it is proved that in times of famine and natural contingencies, saffron seeds were imported from Kishtwar into Kashmir valley. Let us not go into more historical perspectives to prove that Kishtwar saffron has in no way remained below the average in all its properties and to show its past pristine glory as both Kashmir and Kishtwar are in the same Union Territory. However, for various reasons and the genuine ones, saffron growers of Kishtwar are sore over their difficulties not being addressed by the administration and rather being subjected to a sort of discrimination and even neglect in matters of providing of GI tag exclusively to Kashmir saffron and not to Kishtwar saffron and not incentivising its cultivation which could increase the farm incomes , better the living conditions of the farmers in thousands and as such, ensure economic prosperity plus earning precious foreign exchange for the country by its sale in international markets..
The times are changing and the said attractive spice – saffron – which though expensive, is used for purposes like in food, cosmetics, medicines and even in religious rituals which makes it high in demand . In international markets , the stuff faces competition and countries like Spain, Iran, China etc pose a challenge to the monopoly hitherto enjoyed by Kashmiri saffron until two to three decades ago. In other words, saffron as such, largely used for therapeutic uses and needed by pharmaceutical industries do not prefer the product from place or area specific which provides a lot of scope to promote Kishtwar saffron to have its niche not only in domestic market but in international market as well. For that to fructify into a reality and the saffron growers of Kishtwar being in a position to earn remunerative prices , Government had to step in and encourage , help and guide professionally the industrious Kishtwar farmers , conduct research and innovative methods to increase its yield and quality andprovide the GI tag to Kishtwar saffron also.
It may be noted that Kishtwar is blessed with specific climatic conditions conducive for saffron growth. Since saffron traditionally is used as a taste and colour stimulator in foods as it enhances its taste and gives it a better look , encouraging and expansion of food sector side by side as ancillary activities and pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries set up to support demand in addition to traditional ways of selling,could give a push to its production . Any activity which generated opportunities of self employment , especially the crop being labour intensive, increased family incomes, provided indirect employment in the shape of packing, labelling , transportation, sale outlets etc, must be encouraged by the Government for reasons which hardly needed to be enumerated. Kashtwar saffron is in immediate need of getting its due recognition and due place among priorities of the Government of Jammu and Kashmir especially towards the agriculture sector which has otherwise been classified as the (top most) priority sector.