Saffron Cultivation in Kashmir: How To Get Maximum Returns

Saffron Cultivation
Saffron Cultivation

Saffron-an important crop of Kashmir valley, has been grown since ages. It is one of the costliest and high valued spices of the world. The word “Saffron” has been derived from an Arabic word “Zafran” meaning yellow, and in Kashmir it is popularly called “Koung”. Nature has gifted congenial agro-climatic conditions to Kashmir valley that suits well for producing quality saffron.

High quality saffron is produced in the areas which are having warm and dry summers, followed by cold winters. In the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir, it is predominantly cultivated in, Kishtwar, Budgam, Srinagar and Pulwama. In district Pulwama the main cultivation is confined in the karewa’s of Pampore region, popularly known as “Saffron Town”.

Package of  Practices For Saffron Cultivation:

The saffron corms are planted in August at a spacing of 20X30 cm with 30 cm depth on 1.5-2m wide and upto 20m long raised beds having 20cm wide and 15m deep drainage channels on both sides. Hoeing of raised beds are done in the first week of September by an implement locally called “Zoen” or “Zooni” a short handled hoe followed by levelling of beds in order to develop a fine tilth to ensure good emergence of sprouts. Irrigation is an important factor for saffron cultivation in the month of September to get good flush of flowers. Saffron in Kashmir is grown as a rainfed crop and growers are dependent on September rains for good bloom of saffron flowers. Flowers start emerging in the last fortnight of October to first fortnight of November. Flowers are purple in colour, which provide majestic view to the saffron fields.

In the past saffron was cultivated on large scale land in rural areas of district Pulwama. However, due to different constraints in saffron cultivation, growers shifted to other horticultural crops and today the saffron crop is confined to the Pampore and its adjacent areas. Over the past two decades the production of saffron drastically declined by 68 percent and the growers feel devastated for this poor production.

As per the official records it was reported that in 1996 the area under saffron cultivation was 5707 hectares which shrank to 3875 hectares in 2010-11. Besides the yield of this world’s costliest spice recorded in 2011-12 was only 1.5Mts that has literally invoked the scientists and other experts to warn of extinction of this important crop in the valley in near future, if necessary steps are not taken.

However, timely intervention of scientists and experts, and with their tireless efforts, Kashmir has recorded the yield of 13.2 metric tons in the previous year (2020) which was highest in a decade. However, it is worth mentioning that there were various reasons for low production and productivity of this important crop, despite of huge potential for its cultivation in the valley. Sowing of underweight and low quality corms, lack of irrigation facilities, corm rot, use of unskilled labour, and faulty management practices were the major reasons for low production.

In the current growing season, there was adequate timely rainfall, and obviously the saffron growers expect bumper crop, however following traditional post harvest practices, the quality of the saffron gets deteriorated thereby minimising the returns and have negative impact on livelihoods of growers. So the post harvest management is an important aspect to get quality saffron and fetch higher returns in the market.

It has been observed that growers usually pick the flowers without following any recommended schedule and saffron flowers are ruthlessly plucked from the fields irrespective of the age of flowers. As age of Saffron flowers and collection material has direct impact on saffron yield and quality. Flowers should be picked in the morning hours before the sun rise using hand gloves in baskets with proper aeration.

After the picking of flowers the important part of the flower i.e the stigma is to be separated immediately within 10-12 hours of picking of flowers in order to achieve maximum recovery. It is worth mentioning that sigma “the red gold” is an important part of saffron- A top red part of it is called “Mongra” saffron which is the finest and costliest part of saffron. Other is the “Lacha” saffron i.e stigma along with style and is less costly than Mongra saffron.

After the separation of stigma, the stigma’s need to be dried in order to reduce the moisture content for its safe storage. However, drying of saffron is an important process which determines its quality. Saffron growers usually dry their produce traditionally under the sun; however in open sun drying, there are chances of its contamination with microbes besides takes longer duration of drying. Saffron growers need to adopt scientific methods of drying usually hot air dryers, solar dryers and solar tunnel saffron dryer at a temperature of 40-50C for 4-7 hours to retain pigment concentration very close to that of fresh saffron.

It is obvious that separation of stigma’s within a short span of time is cumbersome due to insufficient family labour and maintaining of high temperatures (40-50ºC) in scientific dryers for drying of saffron is difficult in Kashmir conditions, So for the benefit of saffron growers, the government of India has constructed high-tech Saffron/Spice Park-India International Kashmir Saffron Trading Centre (IIKSTC) under National Saffron Mission at Dussu Pampore. Saffron growers can avail benefits from this park for post-harvest handling practices on scientific basis like stigma separation, drying, grading, packaging and marketing of quality saffron in order to end the menace of adulteration and spurious saffron.

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