Pampore, Nov 10: The picturesque highlands of Pampore, Jammu and Kashmir, are ablaze with vibrant purple saffron flowers, marking the annual harvest of the world’s most coveted spice. From October 20 to November 15, the region witnesses a burst of activity as farmers meticulously gather the prized Kashmiri saffron (Crocus Sativus).
In a market dominated by Iran, which contributes 88 percent of global saffron production, Kashmir’s saffron holds a unique position, constituting 7 percent of the world’s supply. Officials from the Department of Agriculture in Kashmir emphasize the organic nature of their saffron, highlighting its high crocin concentration (8.72 percent), surpassing Iranian saffron at 6.82 percent.
Muzamil Salmani, head of the India International Kashmir Saffron Trade Centre (IIKSTC), attributes the premium value of Kashmiri saffron to its rarity, meticulous cultivation, and absence of chemicals. The limited production has elevated demand, making it more expensive than its Iranian counterpart, as noted by Altaf Aijaz Andrabi, Kashmir’s former agriculture director.
National Saffron Mission and Revival:
The saffron industry faced challenges due to climate change and a lack of irrigation facilities between 2000 and 2010. Responding to this, the Indian government launched the National Saffron Mission in 2010. Before the mission, saffron production had dwindled to 8.2 MT in 2009 from 15.9796 MT in 1997. The mission revitalized the industry, boosting production to 13.357575 MT in 2020 and expanding cultivation acreage from 331 to 2,598.75 hectares.
Pampore, often referred to as the ‘saffron town,’ hosts the annual saffron harvest, where men, women, and children don traditional Kashmir attire, known as Pherans, to delicately pluck saffron flowers from the elevated tableland called ‘Karewa.’ The harvested flowers are then meticulously processed to extract the valuable spice.
Technology and GI Tag Elevating Quality:
The India International Kashmir Saffron Trade Centre (IIKSTC), Kashmir’s first high-tech spice park, has played a pivotal role in maintaining and enhancing saffron quality. Through advanced post-harvest management, including stigma separation, electrical and vacuum drying, grading, packaging, testing, and e-auctioning, the park ensures top-notch saffron reaches the market.
Salmani highlights the impact of the Geographical Indication (GI) tag obtained by the park, doubling farmers’ income. The tag certifies the authenticity and unique qualities of Kashmiri saffron, fostering trust among consumers and eliminating middlemen from the supply chain.
In conclusion, the success story of Kashmir’s saffron industry is a testament to the intersection of traditional cultivation practices, government initiatives, technological advancements, and quality assurance measures. The aromatic ‘red gold’ from the saffron fields of Pampore continues to captivate global markets, offering a unique blend of flavor, fragrance, and medicinal properties.