Saffron is reputed to be the world’s most expensive spice and a legendry crop of J&K, known as the king of condiments. It fetches between ₹1.5 lakh and ₹2.5 lakh per kilogram . Over the past several years , the industry was running in loss on account of low saffron productivity and unorganised market. Though technologies ensuring high saffron quality with productivity are available but implementation of technologies by the farmers was a big question due to high input cost. This year Manifold increase in Saffron production has become a source of joy and jubilation for the farmers associated with the crop who had suffered huge losses in past a few years due to weather vagaries.
Chairman Jammu and Kashmir Saffron Growers Association, Abdul Majeed Wani said that there has been 50 percent increase in the production of saffron crop this year against the previous years and farmers associated with it are delighted.
The saffron harvesting is in progress in many south Kashmir villages especially in Pampore which is known as the ‘Saffron Town of Kashmir.
“Weather played a commendable role in the saffron production with rainfall occurring at a time when it was needed, helping the crop to grow and increase production,” the chairman said.
Wani said that many farmers who are associated with this crop had given up on sowing the seeds of saffron in their fields due to low production during the past few years. But, after seeing a good production of the crop this year, they regret their decision and have made up their mind to continue the saffron business in future.
“We cannot say it is a bumper crop,” Wani said and added “It is 50 percent more than what we were achieving during the past few years.”
He said that it became possible only due to good weather conditions and timely rainfall helped the crop to grow and increased production.
He said that many outside parties have already made their online bids for the purchase of saffron from the growers.
Wani said, “Saffron growers in Pampore have been waiting for the completion of the sprinkle irrigation facility by the government to boost production of saffron but nothing has been done so far,” he said.
He said although about 128 bore wells have been installed but they have not been made functional as yet. “If irrigation facility to the saffron fields remains available, we would have a bumper crop every year,” Wani added.
He demanded that irrigation facilities should be made available to the saffron farmers in the future so that the crop would not have to wait for the timely rains.
In a new technique with the help of the Sher-e-Kashmir Agriculture University Shalimar, Wani is sowing saffron seeds in his home called “indoor saffron” where he had put beds in a step by step way claimed growing quality production of the saffron and can afford any weather condition.
He advised other farmers to adhere to the indoor saffron system to increase the production without facing any weather threat.
The saffron association head said that the supply of Iranian saffron in Kashmir valley had ruined their market.
He claimed people are selling Iranian saffron in the name of Kashmir, thus ruining our crop. However, he said the buyers are now aware and can identify the Kashmiri and Iranian saffron.
He said, earlier the growers were selling a kilogram of saffron for Rs 3.5 lakh to 4 lakh to the buyer, but with the mixing of Iranian saffron the rates went down tremendously.
He said the growers are now selling saffron in Spice Park in Dussu village of Pampore in south Kashmir and claimed buyers from the valley as well as outside are bidding high and getting pure Kashmir saffron at a good price. “Even online the buyers from various outside states are giving their bid for the saffron,” he said.
In Jammu and Kashmir, four districts – Pulwama, Budgam, Srinagar and Kishtwar – grow saffron. Among the four, Pulwama district’s Pampore has earned the title of Kashmir’s “saffron town” for growing the best quality saffron. The soil quality in this area is highly suitable for its cultivation and yields the prized “Kashmiri saffron” known for its aroma, colour and medicinal value.
Around 30,000 families in the Pampore area are associated with saffron cultivation. The town’s saffron is considered to be of superior quality because of the presence of a higher concentration of crocin. Its crocin content – which gives the saffron its darker colour and medicinal value – is 8.72% as compared to the Iranian variety which contains 6.82%.
According to the 2011 census, approximately 11,000 women in the Kashmir valley work in the saffron farming sector, nearly 50% of the workforce for this crop.
Their role is key in separating the delicate saffron thread from the flower. Each thread consists of three strands and each one must be picked from the flower properly. The threads are then dried in the sunlight, another tricky step, as they need to be spread evenly at a certain thickness on a white sheet. The strands are then preserved in a cotton cloth so air can continuously pass through to avoid the accumulation of moisture and rot.
Knocked by the change in climate, poor irrigation, and imports of the cheaper Iranian variety, saffron production in the valley had declined rapidly. According to the Department of Agriculture Kashmir, the production of Kashmiri saffron has declined by 65% over the past two decades from 16 metric tonnes to 5.6 metric tonnes.
In the past 10 years, the low yield had become a deterrent for farmers and many of them have already shifted to other high yielding crops like apples and walnuts.
The area under saffron cultivation had shrunk at a fast pace from around 5,707 hectares in 1996 to 3,875 hectares in 2010-11.
In 2007, the Saffron Act was introduced, which barred the conversion of saffron farms to commercial plots and levied a penalty of Rs 10,000 and one year’s imprisonment on violators. The act dissuaded the land mafia in the area who had started to buy land in bulk and build houses on it.
In 2010, Rs 400-crore National Saffron Mission was set up to restore the sector. The goals were diverse: from providing irrigation through sprinklers and taps, increasing the quality of the seed sown for crops, conducting research to enhance productivity, and educating farmers about new methods of farming.
Pertinently May 2020, Kashmiri saffron was given a geographical indication tag by the geographical indications registry. The request was filed by the Directorate of Agriculture, Government of Jammu and Kashmir, and facilitated by the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agriculture Sciences and Technology, Kashmir, and Saffron Research Station, Dussu (Pampore) with the aim to make it illegal for someone outside the valley to make and sell a similar product under the “Kashmiri saffron” name.