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Jammu & Kashmir

Kashmir’s super spice: Pampore is poised for a saffron surge

September 10, 2020 06:57 AM


Kashmir’s super spice: Pampore is poised for a saffron surge
Hopes for a high yield and better prices are already blossoming this season, thanks to the state-of-the-art Spice Park at Dusoo; GI tag will be a game changer, say officials

The Spice Park will receive its first lot of fresh flowers from the fields in October. The produce will be put through a cold chain for scientific drying, processing and grading . Waseem Andrabi/HT 

Mir Ehsan and Ramesh Vinayak

Pampore : As the monsoon recedes over north India, the flatlands in Pampore, the picturesque part of south Kashmir ringed by the Khrew mountain range, buzzes to life with farmers readying their fields for the saffron crop that flowers by mid-October.

Their hopes for a high yield and better prices are already blossoming this season thanks to the state-of-the-art Spice Park at Dusoo in the saffron hub of Pulwama district. The centre will receive its first lot of fresh flowers from the fields this season. The produce will be put through a cold chain for scientific drying, processing and grading before the centre facilitates farmers to e-trade their geographical indication or GI-tagged produce on a pan-India portal. The newly commissioned facility is the first of its kind in Asia and marks a ground-breaking shift for Kashmir’s centuries-old saffron trade in which the harvest was traditionally sun-dried at home by farmers and sold in markets through middlemen.

Change is in the air

Pulwama, the land of saffron, annually produces 80 quintals of high-quality produce with a turnover of Rs 120 crore-Rs 140 crore. As the most expensive spice, the market price of one gram of top grade saffron can vary between Rs 250-Rs 300. Typically, a grower gets half of that as the middlemen control the market. This April, Jammu and Kashmir got the GI tag for home-grown saffron. The GI tag is a code given to a certain product that has a specific geographical location or origin.

Come November and Kashmir’s saffron trade will change radically. “The GI-tag will put a stamp of originality on Kashmiri saffron and significantly enhance the farmer’s marketing reach and fetch them a far better price in the national and international markets,” says Pulwama deputy commissioner Dr Raghav Langer. Farmers too are looking forward to the change in the offing. “The GI-tag and e-auction will be a game changer,” says Abdul Majeed, chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Saffron Growers Development and Marketing Cooperative Association, an umbrella body representing 37,000 families into saffron cultivation. “It will benefit both farmers and consumers.”

Advantageous to farmers

The Rs 40-crore park has been set up as part of the National Saffron Mission, a centrally-funded Rs 410-crore project launched in 2010 to rejuvenate saffron cultivation in Kashmir.

Abdul Rashid Illayee, the project manager of Spice Park, says Kashmiri saffron is considered best because of its colour, aroma and flavour. “Before the GI-tag, the saffron from Iran and Spain used to be sold under the Kashmir brand to the disadvantage of local farmers,” he said.

The Spice Park can store two metric tonnes of flowers for 48 hours. After the flower’s stigma, which forms the saffron, is separated, the farmers’ produce will be coded, dried scientifically and tested in the laboratory on eight quality parameters.

So far, 250 saffron growers have registered for the e-auction of their packaged GI-tagged produce to pan-India buyers.

Seal of authenticity

The Spice Park has applied for accreditation to provide farmers access to international markets. “The traditional drying methods at the farmers’ end invariably caused contamination and loss of quality but all that will now change for the better,” says Illayee. “Saffron growers will now be able to directly sell their produce through the e-auction portal that fetches them a much better price. The GI tag is a seal of authenticity,” says Dr Inam-ur Rasool, in-charge of the e-auction.

Officials say that the J&K government will fix the base price for the bidding. “Even after bidding, the base price can go up and brokers who used to take growers for a ride, will get eliminated,” says Dr Rasool.

From red to saffron

Prior to the National Saffron Mission, Pampore’s signature crop was in the red. The rain-fed saffron belt has seen a steady decline from 5,000 hectares to 3,000 hectares in the last two decades.

The reasons range from recurring droughts, absence of an irrigation system, growing urbanisation and commercial pressures on the prime saffron land on the Srinagar-Jammu highway.

Over the past decade, the project has focused on standardisation of seed (bulbs), scientific packaging and subsidised drip irrigation. This has helped rejuvenate the saffron crop and increase the area under cultivation to 3,700 hectares. Pulwama alone accounts for 3,200 hectares.

Better yield expected

Majeed, one of the big saffron cultivators, says most of the work under the mission is complete. “We are awaiting the testing of drip irrigation. The pipes have been laid and 104 bore wells dug, however, the irrigation system hasn’t been connected with the supply line. Once that’s done, production will increase manifold and drought won’t impact this crop,” he says.

Pulwama chief agriculture officer Mohammad Qasim Ghani says that the National Saffron Mission has been extended for two years. “Last year, Pulwama produced 12 tonnes of saffron. This time, due to good rainfall last month, it is likely to touch 16 tonnes,” says Ghani

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