Kesar in Hindi, Zafran in Urdu, Bahukam in Sanskrit while Saffron in English,
synonymous with luxury, it is the most expensive spice in the wor ld. Known for its natural deep red colour, high aroma, medicinal values, cosmetic purposes, and adding flavour to the delicacies, saffron is high in demand everywhere.
Iran, Spain, and India are the three countries that grow saffron on a commercial scale. While Iran is the largest producer, India is close second with almost the entire production concentrated in the Karewas which are the highlands of Kashmir.
How ever Kashmiri saffron is the leader in terms of quality. Pampore is know n as the Saffron town of Kashmir as thousands of hectares of land is under saffron cultivation. Pulwama, Budgam, Kishtwar, and Srinagar are other major production centres. Kashmir naturally has the agro-climatic conditions well suited for the production of saffron in terms of the soil texture, terrain weather etc. Saffron processed in Kashmir are basically of three types- Lachha, Mongra, and Guchhi Saffron was introduced in Kashmir by Central Asian immigr ants in the first century BCE. Since then there is no looking back. In May 2020, Kashmiri saffron got the GI tag by the Geographical Indications Registry. This gave a major boost to the export
potential of the spice and had a major spill through effect on the allied industries and the dependent workforce.
Saffron cannot be produced without human intervention. The seeds produced by its flow ers are sterile making natural pollination impossible. The plant reproduces asexually via vegetative propagation. Cultivation is done through corms. Corms are sowed in summer and the saffron and the crocus flowers are ready to be harvested mid to late autumn. The flowers are harvested by hand before sunrise so that they
are not damaged by the sun’s direct rays. Hand plucking is preferred over mechanical plucking to avoid damage to the flower. The Saffron that we see are the stigmas of the flowers, each flower having just three stigmas. More than 15000 flowers produce one kg of saffron taking around 400 hours.
Adulterants like beetroots or pomegranate are being used to increase its red colour, silk fibres, oil or wax are being used to increase the volume and powdered saffron is being adulterated with turmeric and paprika leading to a decline in demand. Lack of good quality of seeds, poor soil fertility, irrigation facility, rats, and diseases lead to poor returns. The precarious political situation, poor post-harvest management,improper marketing, weak backward and forward linkage, diversification to other
crops by farmers are forcing the saffron industry to punch below its potential.
Saffron can become the most remunerative cash crop provided agriculture marries technology. Good marketing, gover nment support in terms of minimum support price, promoting research on saffron and allied industry, incentivizing investors to set up industry will go a long way forward in improving India’s economy and providing a gain ful horticultural avenue to the farmers. It’s high time that we start feeling proud of the kesariya nation.