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Saffron surge has Kashmir farmers smiling

Chandigarh: Saffron prices are ruling steady this season while output has jumped almost three-fold, bringing smiles back to farmers in Kashmir who cultivate the world’s most precious spice.

Prices are now at ₹1.5-2 lakh per kilogram, almost on par with last year’s rates when the crop was reduced to a third.

Saffron, a highly climate sensitive crop, was affected by unfavorable weather in the past two years, but adequate moisture has ensured above average output this year.

As many as 32,000 farmers are registered for saffron cultivation in Pulwama, Budgam, Srinagar and Kishtwar, with around 3,715 hectares -more than half of that in Pulwama – covered under the crop.

Apart from increased production, farmers in the valley have tapped direct linkages with buyers to avoid the distress sale that usually follows a high output season.

“Lacha category saffron is selling for ₹120 per gram, and for mogra it is ₹150 per gram, almost at last year’s levels when output was hit by inclement weather,” said Javid Ahmed Ganie, general secretary, Jammu and Kashmir Saffron Growers Association. He said saffron growers have benefitted from cooperative marketing of their produce by directly tapping linkages that were built during trade fairs in Delhi, Noida, Mumbai and Kerala.

Owing to its quality, saffron grown in Kashmir sells at a premium over imported varieties, usually at twice the rates. Imported varieties from Iran and Afghanistan sell for ₹70,000 per kg.

“Kashmir’s saffron is priced more as it is acclaimed for its higher potency of antioxidants like serotonin, crocetin, safranal and kaempferol than the imported varieties,” Altaf Aijaz Andrabi, director-agriculture, J&K, said.

Farmers have harvested a better than average crop after two disastrous seasons, Andrabi said. “Saffron harvesting was affected by snowfall this year, otherwise the yield per hectare would have been more than 5.5-6 kg,” he said.

In 2017 and 2018, production was less than 5.5 tonnes due to untimely rains and snowfall at the time of harvest. “This year we are expecting more than 16 tonnes,” Andrabi said. “Farmers are now getting advance bookings, and this has cut intermediaries and checked loss of margins to growers,” Andrabi said. Initiatives by the central government have rejuvenated saffron cultivation in Kashmir and this season the yield has jumped to 4-4.5 kg per ha from 1.5 kg in the past two years.

“The government-run Saffron Mission has yielded fruit as mechanization, latest cultivation practices and financial incentives extended to farmers have increased yield,” Ganie said. “The new cultivation technology and irrigation infrastructure have vastly supplemented yields,” he said. Sprinkle irrigation, the final component of the Saffron Mission, will push cultivation to higher levels. “Around 126 borewells have been dug forsaffron irrigation and has boosted output,” he said.

Farmers in the valley have received around ₹5 lakh each over the last seven years to adopt new techniques.

Unlike apples, whose transportation by trucks from the valley was hit due to violence in October and November, saffron consignments were delivered seamlessly in small vehicles.

Source: Economic Times