Wednesday, November 11, 1998 Published at 22:51 GMT
World: South Asia
Kashmiris pin hopes on saffron
Every member of the community helps harvest the crop
By South Asia Correspondent Daniel Lak
For two weeks every year, thousands of people in the troubled state of Indian Kashmir stop their daily lives and head for the fields to start the region's famous saffron harvest.
But a decline in militancy in the area means farmers now believe their businesses will finally get a chance to flourish
Rehana Rather makes her living picking the world's most expensive spice.
They work non-stop for a week, all day and all night. The crocus blooms for just a few days every year and it has to be picked quickly.
"We get up early and pick flowers all day. We have five fields and we move between them. We eat our lunch out here and work until dark. And after that, there's still a lot more work to do," she says.
40 hours labour for $1000
Normal life comes to a halt as families work painstakingly together to strip the saffron flowers.
Kashmir has produced saffron for more than 1,000 years. Even when the militant insurgency was at its height there a few years ago, people still flocked to the field for the annual harvest.
Despite the fact that their crop commands a high price, they are struggling to produce enough to meet the massive demands of the Indian market.
Growers and distributors of Kashmiri saffron say their efforts aren't getting enough support from the government.
Shabeer Ahmed Malik, International Saffron Company says they need backing: "We produce the world's best saffron.
"If the government gives us proper help, proper guidance and proper marketing steps are taken by the government inside and outside India then I am sure that the common grower will benefit."
Saffron may be expensive to buy but it's not lucrative to grow, and certainly not for the people who pick it. Not much of the purchase price percolates down here, to the fields.
The government says it is doing what it can but it is short of money too.
The annual autumn saffron harvest goes on now much as it did two thousand years ago, but for many of these farmers and pickers, it is a tradition that badly needs to be modernised.