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As production of Kashmiri saffron declines, farmers pitch for GI tag

On a chilly February morning in this south Kashmir town, saffron farmer Manzoor Ahmad Bhat, 38, was placing out on a thirty-km travel to the money town of Srinagar. He, and two other farmers using with him, were conference officers of the agriculture division to press for a Geographic Indication (GI) tag for Kashmiri saffron.

Hit by local climate improve, cheaper Iranian imports, inadequate irrigation and out-of-date farming and write-up-harvest tactics, the creation of Kashmiri saffron has declined by 65% above 22 yrs to 2018–from sixteen metric tonnes to 5.6 metric tonnes, as per the records of the Department of Agriculture Kashmir (See Desk) accessed by IndiaSpend.

Bhat and his fellow farmers are hopeful that a GI tag will save the Kashmiri wide variety of saffron–offered at Rs 1-three lakh a kilo, the most high priced spice in the planet–from the competitors posed by Iranian saffron. Up to forty eight% cheaper than the Kashmiri wide variety, Iranian saffron has ninety five% share of the planet current market.

Saffron, despite its selling price, is in high demand from customers for its antioxidant attributes. It carries a hefty selling price tag also since the method of changing crocus flowers into the thread-like spice is painstaking and labour-intense: It will take about a hundred and sixty,000 flowers to yield a kilogram of saffron.

Kashmiri saffron is of remarkable good quality since of the larger focus of crocin, a carotenoid pigment that presents saffron its color and medicinal value: Its crocin material is 8.seventy two% in contrast to the Iranian variant’s 6.eighty two%, a govt doc claims, giving it a darker color and improved medicinal value.

“Kashmiri saffron is recognisable by its dim maroon-purple hue it is between the world’s darkest, which hints at strong flavour, aroma and colouring impact,” according to this research paper posted by the Global Journal of Farming and Allied Sciences (IJFAS).

The problem, farmers pointed out, is that it is hard for typical shoppers to location the change concerning many versions and this places Kashmir’s produce at a downside, not able to command the larger selling price it justifies in a aggressive current market. Large-grade Kashmiri saffron has also been strike by adulteration–blended with the cheaper Iranian wide variety to be offered, it has lower area farmers’ financial gain margins, the IJFAS paper said.

A GI mark would be the most effective way to distinguish it on shop shelves, farmers said. “This is the final hope for the growers now,” said Bhat who owns a 2.5hectare farm in Khrew village in Pampore. “Kashmiri saffron at present is offered at Rs 1,000 per tola [ten grams] versus the sought after Rs 2,500.”

Steps to boost area saffron are significant for the financial state of Jammu and Kashmir. Agriculture and allied activities are the key occupation of about 80% of its population, and above sixteen,000 people are engaged in saffron cultivation. Currently 2.35% of Kashmiri saffron developed each year is exported, as per Srinagar-dependent traders we spoke to, and there is scope for this to develop.

The ongoing crisis and interaction lockdown have strike the regional financial state, as IndiaSpend described in September 2019.

Painstaking operate, diminishing returns

Saffron cultivation entails a great deal hard operate and persistence–when the purple harvest arrives in autumn, the flowers are plucked and the crimson purple stigma taken out and dried for days until it shrinks to the dimensions of a slender thread. Just one stigma of saffron weighs about 2 mg and on regular each and every flower has three stigmata.

Each and every 12 months, Kashmir provides 17 metric tonnes of saffron, on regular, as per the agriculture division. Saffron is cultivated in three districts: Pulwama, Srinagar and Budgam.

Bhat’s story illustrates the crop’s decline above two a long time. Hailing from a family members that has been rising saffron for 4 generations, Bhat commenced functioning on his farm in 1996. The 1st ten yrs were lucrative–his fields yielded 6 kg of saffron each year that could be offered at about Rs 2.5 lakh per kg.

But in 2007, cheaper Iranian saffron commenced flooding Indian markets, Bhat said. As costs dipped–as low as Rs 1 lakh per kg–saffron farmers in Bhat’s village, Khrew, commenced moving out of cultivation. They commenced developing retailers on their farms and renting them.

“In a decade, about 2,400 hectares of saffron farms in Khrew shrank to 1,500 hectares,” said Bhat. “People switched to other trades like rising apples or setting up buying complexes near to the Srinagar-Jammu nationwide freeway.”

In the final 24 yrs, the cultivable land devoted to saffron has declined by 65% in Kashmir, as per agriculture division records accessed by IndiaSpend.

Iranian saffron swamps current market

India is the fourth premier importer of Iranian saffron: In 2018, it imported saffron worth $18.thirty million from Iran, according to the Trade Advertising Council of India.

Iran is at present the premier producer of saffron in the planet, as we said earlier, cultivating above three hundred tonnes each individual 12 months on thirty,000 hectares of land. In Kashmir, which ranks 2nd in source, saffron cultivation is limited to about a single-eighth that place–three,715 hectares.

Pampore, the township in Pulwama district with about three,two hundred hectares of land underneath saffron cultivation, provides the most in the Valley, according to the agriculture division. Srinagar and Budgam cultivate saffron on one hundred sixty five and three hundred hectares, respectively Kishtwar is the only district in the Jammu division to develop the spice on fifty hectares of land.

The selling price of Kashmiri saffron fell by forty eight% soon after 2007, the 12 months Iranian imports grew substantially, as per the All J&K Saffron Growers Progress Cooperative Advertising and marketing Association. A gram of Kashmiri saffron fetched Rs 120 in 2020, versus Rs 250 in 2007, said Abdul Majeed Wani, a saffron grower and president of the affiliation.

Wani cited Kanibal, a village in Pampore as soon as regarded for saffron cultivation, as an illustration of how hard the trade has been strike. “The village had 250 hectares of saffron land but when the yield fell, farmers elevated structures on the land around the nationwide freeway,” he said.

Wani alleged that practically 60% of Iranian saffron is transported illegally by means of Dubai. “Dealers in India sell Iranian saffron at Rs 1 lakh per kg and we are compelled to sell at the identical rate however Kashmiri saffron justifies to be offered at twice the selling price,” he said.

Iranian saffron is often rebranded as Kashmir saffron and offered in area markets, alleged officers. “This affects the track record of Kashmiri saffron, which has larger aroma, flavour and color impact than Iranian wide variety,” Altaf Aijaz Andrabi, director, Kashmir division of agriculture, explained to IndiaSpend.

Declining yield despite saffron mission

The once-a-year creation in 1996 was 15.ninety five metric tonnes and this has far more or less remained stagnant at 15.133 metric tonnes in 2019 as effectively, as per the agriculture division. The regular yield above these 24 yrs has not crossed 5 kg a hectare and at occasions has fallen to .095 kg per hectare.

In 2007, the J&K govt released the Saffron Act of 2007, which prohibited the conversion of saffron farms to professional plots and levied a penalty of Rs ten,000 and a single year’s imprisonment on violators. The 12 months recorded seven.70 metric tonnes once-a-year creation on three,280 hectares with an regular yield of 2.34 kg per hectare.

Considering that then, cultivated land has remained stable at three,715 hectares. The once-a-year creation crossed into double digits until 2014 when significant floods strike Kashmir and wrecked practically 9 metric tonnes of saffron valued at Rs 121 crore.

Source: Department of Agriculture Kashmir

The Rs 400-crore Nationwide Saffron Mission was set up in 2010 to revamp the sector but it has not served increase the yield since it could not fulfil its targets–improved efficiency, superior irrigation, and up to date farming and write-up-harvesting tactics, between some others.

The Saffron Mission was to begin with implemented for five yrs but significant tasks were never concluded. The absence of cash and incompletion of many factors charge it two deadlines–2014 and March 2019–so the mission was prolonged to March 2020. The govt has so far launched Rs 266 crore underneath the mission, of which Rs 247 crore has (93%) been utilised, agriculture division records accessed by IndiaSpend display.

The preliminary two yrs of the Mission noticed no improvement in saffron creation, details display, but it increased in 2012 and 2013 and declined in 2014 due to floods.

Local weather improve consequences

Severe climatic disorders, particularly extended dry period and premature rain and snowfall, commenced influencing the crop in 2017 and 2018 when creation declined to 5.2 and 5.653 metric tonnes, respectively. In 2019, when Kashmir gained well timed rainfall, the yield increased to 15.133 metric tonnes with 4.07 kg per hectare regular yield on three,715 hectares of land.

The newest crop would have been greater if snow in November 2019 had not damaged the crop, the division of agriculture claimed.

The farmers we spoke to expressed the hope that the Saffron Mission would produce on its promises. “Upto 128 bore wells have been produced probable by the govt and we are eagerly waiting for them to begin functioning,” said farmer Nazir Ahmad.

Waiting around for GI tag

In September 2019, Kashmir’s saffron farmers satisfied with officers of the Geographical Indications Registry in New Delhi, a conference facilitated by the Kashmir division of agriculture. Deputy registrar Chinnaraja G Naidu sought aspects of the technique of creation, place underneath cultivation and explanations for GI tagging.

“A spice park coming up at Dussu in Pampore to brand name and boost Kashmiri saffron is the answer to the problems of the whole market as is the e-internet marketing initiative,” said Andrabi. “The [GI] barcode on the saffron will exhibit the traceability of our saffron–who is the grower, how a great deal has been his yield and most importantly, the requirements of his produce.”

Tariq Ahmad, a saffron farmer from Nagam in Budgam, had specified up cultivating saffron two yrs in the past when the yield on his a single-hectare plot fell to less than a few grams. But he welcomed the GI initiative: “It will surely assistance place a desirable charge on farmers’ hard operate.”

The Kashmir Chamber of Industries and Commerce (KCCI), an affiliation of multiple organization bodies, is in favour of bettering the infrastructure for the saffron market and bringing it on par with facilities in rival nations this kind of as Iran and Spain.

“There need to be a system in spot for branding of this spice,” KCCI president Sheikh Ashiq Ahmad explained to IndiaSpend. “The whole method of saffron harvesting and packaging is carried out in a common fashion here in Kashmir. Even more, GI could be a activity changer in the saffron market as the demand from customers for this money crop grows with each and every passing day.”

Have to have for present day tactics

Saffron farming stays rooted in common tactics and requires to be modernised to strengthen the yield, said Bashir Ahmad Illahi, head of the Saffron Investigation Station in Sher-i-Kashmir College of Agricultural Science in Shuhama place of Srinagar district.

“In Kashmir, growers sow 225,000 corms per hectare, whilst science indicates it need to be 500,000,” he said. “Then write-up-harvest administration, specially solar-drying of the saffron flower, requires to improve. Abroad, they do this with vacuum dryers.”

(Firdous Hassan is a Srinagar-dependent journalist and filmmaker.)