There are only two or three places in the whole world where saffron grows. Kashmir has the proud privilege of being one of these places. There are two locations in Kashmir where saffron grows. One of these two places is Pampur. Pampur is a small town, which is 13 km from Srinagar. The saffron plant is very small and its flower is the only part which is seen above the ground. The blooming time of this flower is autumn. Saffron has a unique sweet smell and is used in dyeing and cooking.
The botanical name of Saffron is Crocus sativus. The purple colored flowers appear just above the ground and are a beautiful sight. The orange stigmas of the saffron plant are harvested as saffron and used as a flavoring and coloring agent in various recipes. Saffron is added to Kahwa - the traditional Saffron Tea drunk by people in Kashmir.
Saffron bearing its botanical name as “Crocus Sativus” “Kong,” “Zaffron”, or “Saffron” is a gifted crop cultivated in Kashmir, which fetches a fair price in both national and international markets. The cultivation of saffron is restricted to the “Karewas” or “Wudars” of Kashmir valley and Kistwar in Jammu division. The main agroclimatic factors which influence the cultivation of saffron are temperature, precipitation, soil texture, water table and slope. Climate hazards prove very detrimental for the crop. The extreme cold and schorching heat retard the growth of the plant while temperate climate its growth and development.
Saffron thrives guite well in the well drained light loamy Karewa soils. The waterable should be more than 2.5 meters deep as the high water table damages the saffron corns.
The Karewa soils are ideal for its cultivation . In highly fertile soils, the plant leads towards the vegetative growth only . Apart from agro climate factors , the cultivation of this crop is subject to the economic status of the farmer. The cost of seeds and labour is too high and it is beyond the reach of a farmer to these costly inputs .
The “Kerewas” or the alluvial tablelands range in elevation between 1645 meters to 2700 metres and produce the most ancient and world’s costiest spice the “Saffron” or “Zaffron” an important cash crop of the state . The plant, a native of Iron and Asia minor, was frown earlier widely in Europe and Asia, but now a days it is confined to spain and certain pockets of Kashmir and Kishtawar (Jammu).
Saffron (Crocus Staiva) belonging to the iris family, is a perenial herb with adventitious roots and large faintly scented flowers, each with six blue or purple petals and three yellow stamens round the pistils. The ovary remains flush with the soil surface and bears a long style with three orange coloured stigmas. The flowers are sterile unless pollinated with pollen of the wild form.
The saffron was introduced in Kashmir during the prechistian era, probably by the migrants who came from Palestine or Persia.
Saffron is one of the crops in Kashmir, which fetches a very good cash value both in home and foreign around the table lands of pampore area since last 2500 years. From Pampore, saffron made its entry in the “Karewas” of “Koil” Pulwama and Budgam as well. The crop is in its Zygote stage at Tral karewas, where it has shown better prospects of yield and survival. In Jammu region, “Kishtawar” is the only place, where the saffron is cultivaed in extensive scale.
Saffron is supposed to be the nature’s best flavouring and colouring agent. It is used in culinary and confectionary. It is commonly used in both religious and auspicious ceremonies. Saffron, acts as a stimulant, sedative and an expectorant. Saffron contains from 0.5 to 1.0 percent essential oil, the principle aromatic component of which is glycoside picrocrocin. The colouring matter of saffron is its yellowish red glycoside crocin, a driplet of which can yellow more than 1,50,000 times its amount of water.
Palestinions, during biblical period made an extensive use of saffron as a spice with a strong, exotic aroma and bitter taste. Saffron has been used since early times to colour and flavour dishes particularly rice, chicken and fish. The Kashmiris relish, “Kehwa” with a pinch of saffron. In marriage cermonies of Kashmiris, the curd in the earthen pots gets a rich flavour and the addition of a little quantity of saffron which spreads in the nucleus of the cups and flavour the whole cups. Saffron oil, obtained by distillation of dried stigmas, has a characteristic deep odour due to presence of safrenal. It is one of the most expensive essences and is used in traces as an ingredients in some oriental perfumes.Saffron has a medicinal value as, it is used againest fervers, melancholia and enlargement of lever and spleen. It is gbenerally taken as a tonic and a home remedy for stomach and catarrhal infections.
Kashmiris are accustomed of using saffron (kong) in their religious ceremonies connected with birth, marriage and death. It is often used as “Traditional Tilak” by the Hindus community.
Saffron thrives well in the temperate climate. In the valley it grows in cool sunny situations from 1500 metres to 2000 metres altitude from the sea level. Higher elevations and areas near forests delay flowering and delimits the crop yield. Photo period exerts a considerable influence on the flowering this crop. An optimum of about 12 hours light period is essential. Tempertature also plays a vital role. A difference of about 10-20 degree celcius. Low temperature coupled with humidity adversely affect the flower, yield and quantity. Winter and spring seasons are helpful for vegetative growth and corm reproduction. A good shower of rains during August and September help the flowering and increases the yield. Dry weather conditions during flowering period are ideal for saffron. Saffron requires a well drained light loamy soils. Fertile soils are responsible for the increase in vegetative and reproductive growth of plant. For corm development adequate surface drainage is essential. Saffron thrives well in those soils which are rich in base and are free from stones. The PH of the soils range from neutral to moderately alkaline.
The soil is ploughed atleast 16 times, about 20-26 cms deep. All the clods are broken and the filed is leveled. The planting seasons of saffron seed corn extends from August to September well developed seed corns free from diseases are planted in 15-20 cm wide furrows at 8-10 cm depth. The furrows are opened by a plough. In August and September the cormlets are planted on raised 1-3/4 metres square plots of pulverized soil surrounded by 15 cm deep and 30 cm wide drainage channels.
Manuring of saffron fields enrich the soil content and the yield also increases. A dose of 40 kg nitrogen N2 and 50 dg phosphorus pentaoxide P205 per hectare is an optimum dose, and the same dose can be made available from 50 kg of urea and 10 kgs of D.A.P fertilizers. Half of urea and full dose of D.A.P must be applied during August - September and the rest of urea during March – April. Farm yard maure, from 15-20 tonnes is sufficient for an area of one hectare of saffron land, to keep the soil in loose form and it helps in rapid corn multiplication.
Saffron is grown ad a rainfed crop in Kashmir. The fields experience the first hoeing during the month of June, breaking the upper crust and the fields get aerated by this process second hoeing follows in August – September, during which drainage channels are also required and soils is raised from these channels and spread over the centre of the beds.
When mild and cool winds begin and sweep through the valley, during mid or late October, a couple of mild showers transform the sprawling denuded fields into a carpet of saffron flowers, which last till mid of November the beautiful and charming flowers are picked daily in early morning.
During the first two years of planting the flowering is sparse, from third year each corn produces bunches of as many as 20 flowers, after 12-14 years, the daughter corm lets are dug out and transplanted elsewhere lest they should get diseased.
Flowerig lasts only for about one or two weeks. In each clump new blossoms appear intermittent and are picked as they open. One kilogram of saffron consists of about 5 lakh stigma parts and requires the plucking by hand of 1,60,000 flowers. The flowers are collected in baskets by enchusiastic children and women and spread for drying in the mild October – November sun. The separated stigmas are further subjected to sun or artificial heat for two or three days and when thoroughly parched the produce is promptly packed up in polythene bags and air tight containers. A hundred kg of fresh flowers yield about three kgs of dehydrated stigmas, which constitute the finest and the most expensive saffron , called “Shahi Zaffron”. The remaining flower parts are processed further to obtain inferior grades called “Mogra Zaffron”. The normal yield of saffron per hectare is less than ten kgs, annually however, inadeuate or untimately rains and fog prove detrimental for the produce.
A Kashmiri saffron grower sells his dried merchandise to state contractors for Rs 40,000 a kg. The current retail price varies between Rs 30,000 and Rs 40,000 in different parts of the country. It is said, that the price of saffron increases when produce is high and it declines when the yield is low. Srinagar, Amritsar and Bombay are important centres for onward trade in the commodity. The export markets for the sale of saffron are Dubai and other Gbulf countries, Canada, USA, France, Germany, Japan, Kenya and Hong Kong. There is no doubt that saffron has a growing export potential, but the lack of technical know how in the state, has hampered the speedy progress in this field. In Kashmir the yield of saffron is less as compared to the yield of the same crop in spain, which is the only country to complete the commodity in the world markets.
The average yield of saffron (Mongra grade) is about 2.5-3.5 kgs/hectare, from a field at maximum, production stage.
Saffron, a golden condiment, is the darling of both growers and the traders as well, because its sale provides the main economic boom to the people who are involved in its processing. The export of saffron has earned a great chunk of foreign exchange for the country and the people dwelling in saffron pockets in the state are economically stable and strong.
The people living in the saffron belt of the state are far backward and Neo- literates, since they are engaged in the saffron production. Saffron needs a great stock of manual labour and in this way even women and children are employed in this business. The parents encourage their children to work in fields than to go in for schooling and the recent educational surveys have proved that the literacy ratio in such pockets is quite far behind. Second child labour is encouraged and it is creating problems for the budding and blooming children of such places. Though money is available with these people but they are wanting in education and hence they are far behind in their culture and customs as well.
Saffron is a cash crop, and its sale income provides a great economic relief to all such people who are engaged in this business and even the state and the country earn a great deal of foreign exchange as well. But the trade activities are not manned in a true and a consciuos manner. The growing export potential can be profitably tapped with a little extra effort and imagination in a right direction, for the summum bonum of the rank and file of the state.
At present saffron cultivation is diffused throughout the state, in the karewa land forms. Initially its cultivation was confined to pampore Karewa only. The Pulwama district, with 73% of the total saffron area, leads in area and production.
The saffron cultivation needs child labour during picking and as such the pockets where the crop is cultivated are economically sound but educationally backward, as the children are engaged in these operations.
The diffusion of the saffron crop in the recent times to areas other than Pampore has not been successful and the area under its cultivation is now shrinking. The Pampore and its environs still enjoy the leadership in terms of production of saffron. The paters Karewa, in Pulwama Tehsil, is also famous for the cultivation of the crop. A common disease, “Seed Rot” has destroyed the saffron bulbs and in some areas the “rates” have created havoc in the saffron beds, consuming the seed and leaving the beds high and dry
Saffron is a cash crop in Kashmir.The fluctuation in the market price, high cost of seeds, and high labour wages, have disinterested people to cultivate the crop..