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Saffron stigmas from the Crocus Sativus flower. Image source: http://www.wikimedia.org

Saffron is known to be the world’s most expensive spice. Derived from the flower Saffron Crocus, it is used for culinary and medicinal purposes. It is also used as a fabric dye. About 150,000 flowers yield one kilogram of saffron. Numerous uses of saffron coupled with limited areas of cultivation   make it the most sought after spice.(But it is not lucrative to grower since very little of the purchase price reaches the growers.)India is the third major producer of saffron behind Iran and Spain. In India, the plants are cultivated primarily in Kashmir.

In the past , armed conflict in the valley affected the cultivation. Today, construction and industrial activities are responsible for decrease in land under saffron cultivation.

From 7000 hectares in Pampore tehsil alone in 1990, the land under saffron cultivation has reduced to 3600 hectares in entire Kashmir.

According to officials and cultivators, mindless construction of residential houses amidst the fields is one of the major cause for this. The state legislature has a law to prevent such constructions. Unfortunately, it exists only on paper and is not implemented.

“The legislation is there but enactment of these laws is not in the hands of officers in the Agriculture department,” Nigeen Ahmad Lone, the Chief Agriculture Officer of north Kashmir’s Pulwama district, said.

Also, a lack in irrigation facilities is seen as another cause to saffron cultivation. The saffron industry has also suffered due to sale of fake product in the market.

The Government has set up the National Saffron Mission to enhance the quality of saffron by providing irrigation facilities and best marketing opportunities to the growers at their door steps. Whether the common grower will benefit from the government policies, or whether there will be an increase in the saffron yield due to government policies is yet to be seen.

Further reading:  Saffron productivity and weather: A research paper from Indian Meteorological Society.