Agriculturists are working to promote Saffron, highly precious spice, farming in tribal region by introducing the crop as a substitute for growing illicit drugs including opium.
“We have sown Saffron, known in local language as `Zafran’ in September 2016 in Maidan area of Triah Valley, Khyber Agency which is considered as hub of growing opium,” disclosed Faiq Iqbal, Agriculture Officer, Khyber Agency.
It was a pilot project and farming was made at sixteen sites in the same location, he told APP.
Talking to APP, Faiq said the results of growing saffron were very encouraging in regard with germination, seed multiplication and community response point of view.
“Saffron is world’s most expensive spice which is derived from stigmas of saffron crocus. It is used in cuisines of different countries and is produced very rarely across the world,” Faiq explains.
This year, he continued, we have decided to further cultivate over additional land, Faiq said and continued that seed and healthy bulbs of Saffron are very expensive. However, one time investment in sowing gives benefits for several years.
The objective of the initiative is to divert attention of local farmers from growing illicit drugs to cultivating high value crop, Faiq apprised.
Without giving a suitable substitute to local farmers, we cannot stop them from growing prohibited crops, he observed.
“Due to high financial return of opium, local farmers call it `Black Gold’ and we want to replace this conception with `Red Gold’,” he remarked.
The financial returns of growing saffron are much more than opium and for this purpose plantation was made in the area where majority of people are engaged in growing drugs.
“FATA is a terrorism plagued region and main reason behind spread of the menace in tribal belt was abject poverty, unemployment and illiteracy,” observed Abdul Baseer, Conservator Forest Department FATA.
Talking to APP, Abdul Baseer said saffron is a high value crop and has great potential for improving livelihood of farming community of not only FATA but of whole Pakistan. Its farming can be promoted into hilly areas like Swat, Chitral, Upper Dir and Gilgit Baltistan.
He said farming of Saffron seeds over an area of one acre of land can produce one kg of dry stigma which can easily earn an amount of Rs. 600,000 in local market.
Whereas farming of opium over an acre of land can produce 10 kg of hashish which can fetch an amount of Rs. 300,000 which is half of the profit earned through Saffron cultivation.
Apart from Khyber Agency, Saffron cultivation has also been carried out in North and South Waziristan agencies, Abdul Baseer informed.
“The response of farmers is also encouraging who are now expressing consent over utilization of their land for cultivation of saffron,” informed Fazle Imran, an official of Return and Rehabilitation Unit (RRU) FATA Secretariat.
Fazle Imran informed APP that the idea of saffron farming in FATA was conceived during field visits of tribal area under Integrated Natural Resource Management (INRM) programme.
During visit, the official realized that farmers are preferring cultivation of cannabis because of their old experience and good financial returns due to better market linkages.—APP