The beginning of autumn in South Kashmir’s Pampore area is a time for festivity for the region’s saffron growers. With its rich saffron bloom, Pampore town becomes scenic, its fresh air filled with the fragrance of saffron flowers. The town has become a tourist spot in recent years. During the bloom, tourists are often seen interacting with growers and taking pictures and enjoying the view. Pampore town has also been recognised by the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation as ‘heritage site’.
Pampore town is 12 km from Srinagar, and is where most of the saffron in the region is cultivated. Another prominent site of cultivation is Budgam. Saffron is the valley’s principal cash crop. According to the 2011 Census, almost 16,000 families are dependent on it, including 11,000 women.
After many failed crops in recent years, cultivators have been delighted by this year’s ‘bumper’ crop. The yield of saffron production had dropped dramatically over the last few years thanks to drought.
Women help pluck the saffron flowers and carefully remove their stigmas. This is a labour-intensive step of the process, so maintaining saffron fields can be a costly affair.In 2017 and 2018, saffron production in the region was 16.45 and 5.2 metric tonnes, respectively.
To revive traditional farming practices, the Government of India came up with a ‘National Saffron Mission’ in 2010, at a cost of Rs 400.11 crore, to increase the farmers’ interest in saffron cultivation and to rejuvenate saffron fields and increase production. The project included rejuvenation of saffron land, providing organic manure, construction of 128 deep-wells, installation of sprinkle-irrigation systems, and provision of weeders on subsidies. The project lasted for five years after which it went defunct, with its mission unaccomplished.
In 2017 and 2018, saffron production in the region was 16.45 and 5.2 metric tonnes, respectively. In 2019, it was estimated to be 5.91 metric tonnes – i.e. 80% of the crop had failed relative to 2017. By late 2020, however, production had increased to 13.2 metric tonnes, according to the state agriculture department. The prime reason for these fluctuating fortunes has been, and will increasingly be, climate change.
Kashmiri saffron is considered to be one of the finest spices worldwide. Kashmiri saffron has the highest crocin content in the world. This ‘Crocin’ is not paracetamol but a naturally produced pigment. The crocin content of Kashmiri saffron is 8.7% (versus 6.8% for Iranian saffron, e.g.). The Kashmir saffron also stands out in terms of its texture, colour and aroma.
Umer Ahmed is a journalist in Srinagar.