Kashmiri saffron is the gold of all spices without a doubt. A gram of Kesar from the valley can cost around 1500-2000 INR and sometimes even higher. Unfortunately, for a decade now, the production has been declining gradually. The red stigma of the Crocus sativus is only 0.006 grams in each flower. It takes about 150 of them to extract 1 gram of Kesar.
The world’s costliest spice is a bit special when it comes from the ‘paradise on earth.’ Kashmiri saffron is rich in aroma, a bright deep red colour coupled with thicker stigmas. It is completely chemical-free and the only variety of saffron that is grown 1800m above the sea level.
India holds 3rd place in saffron production at the global level after Iran and Spain. Approximately 5,707 hectares of land is used for the cultivation of saffron in India.
The UT’s economy depends on Saffron
Kashmir has a monopoly over the production of this spice, scattered over the area of 4,496 hectares, where Pulwama accounts for the majority production (74.6%), Pampore & Budgam (16.13%), and Srinagar (6.68%) contribute the rest. Pampore, ‘the saffron town of Kashmir’, provides about 2128 kg zafraan annually.
The UT’s economy depends on saffron considerably, it alone employs about 5% of the workforce in Kashmir and has produced about 94 metric tons of it. A kg of pure Kashmiri Kesar can cost anywhere between INR 2,50,000 to 3,00,000 in the domestic market only. From 2006 to 2010, Kashmir produced about 31,860 Kg (31.86 MT) of Kesar that brought INR 52166.7 lakh to the farmers and other people associated.
The ancient art of cultivating Zafraan (Saffron) is becoming a thing of the past
A declining trend in production is prevalent, the UT had 5,707 hectares of land exclusively for zafraan cultivation in 1997 but, in 2015 it got reduced to 3674 hectares with a negative growth rate of -35.62 per year. There is also a negative growth rate of -6.78% observed in the yield.
Production has declined by more than 65% in the last two decades, and more farmers are graduating to crops with a higher yield. The ancient art of cultivating zafraan is becoming a thing of the past in Kashmir.
Indian governments over the years have failed to revive this gradually dying tradition. False promises coupled with climate change and the availability of cheaper Iranian substitutes have brought down the saffron industry to its knees.
National mission on saffron sanctioned sprinkle irrigation facility worth INR 411 crores ten years ago, Kashmiris are still waiting for it. The local mechanical engineering department provided limited irrigation facilities to ease the burden of some farmers but even that is unusable since there are no electric facilities to support it. Saffron requires watering in September and October for flowering but this year, due to a dry season in the Valley, the yield has been comparatively lower.
The fifteen-month inhumane lockdown did not help make things better and after the onset of COVID-19, Kashmir descended into a deeper state of immobility and economic loss. All agricultural activities suffered incredible losses and saffron was no exception.
Rashid from Bijbehara expressed his pain and said, “During conflicts, a farmer cannot go to work. He cannot tend to his lands and the lack of internet connectivity cripples us as we cannot sell anywhere.”
To make things even worse for Kashmiri farmers, the best quality zafran has been successfully acclimatized and is now growing in the southern part of Sikkim. This move by The Ministry of Science and Technology will end the monopoly Kashmir has over top-quality saffron. There are further plans to grow Kashmiri Kesar in areas of Himachal and Ladakh.
The GI Tag
Geographical Indication Tag was given to Kashmiri farmers in may, this year after an application was filed by the rectorate of Agriculture, to ensure the exclusiveness of Kashmiri saffron. This Subsidiary initiative does nothing to increase the declining production and is plain hypocrisy now after the successful recreation of Pompore Kesar in Sikkim. Kashmiris place no hope in the government for the revival of their diminishing saffron industry.
Read more about Kashmir Lockdown here, Lockdown in Kashmir Just Before the Revocation of Article 370 Marks it’s the First Year