World Bank Funded Project For Kashmiri Saffron

22 March 2009
The Indian Express

Srinagar: A World Bank funded project on Saffron is a new hope for its revival. The Sher-i-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences Kashmir recently unveiled a three hundred lakh project, funded by World Bank. Among the three major projects is ‘a value chain on Kashmir saffron’ which is specially designed to increase the production and quality of saffron using eco friendly technologies. The home-grown Saffron production has decreased from 16 metric tones annually to 6.5 metric tones and the saffron land in the valley has decreased from 5707 hectares in 1997 to 3010 hectares in 2006-2007. In Iran, the world leaders in saffron production, the area expansion for saffron cultivation is constantly burgeoning from 21000 to 47000 hectares and the production of saffron has also gone up from 135 metric tones to 238 metric tones per year. “The decrease in saffron production started in the year 1999 due to severe drought in the valley,” said a senior research scientist at SKUAST-K, Dr Firdous Ahmed Nehvi. The decline in saffron production is ascribed to a number of reasons. “The saffron growers have been growing it without any technological interference and also a fungal disease, root rot is responsible for the decrease in production,” said Dr Firdous Ahmed Nehvi. The other reasons for decreased saffron production include age old traditional and cultural practices, non availability of quality corms, nutrient starvation of soil, severe moisture stress due to erratic rainfall, poor harvest practices, unorganized marketing systems resulting in low saffron prices to growers and adulteration of aboriginal Kashmiri saffron with spurious saffron. “In a survey done on the soils of the saffron cultivation areas, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium were found in a medium concentration,” said Dr Nehvi. The farmers who grow saffron still practice the old methods of plucking and drying the saffron. The flowers are collected in plastic bags, stigmas are removed at leisure and then dried in shade. “We have devised solar and hot air driers which reduce the drying period from three days to four hours and also the biodegradation of these flowers,” he added. “We have also advised these farmers to use water sprinklers for standard water quantity. The difference between Iranian and Kashmiri saffron cited by scientists at the Agriculture University Kashmir include better irrigation, industrial back up and better driers. The University is also researching which crops to grow with the saffron. “Here we have seen the compatibility of saffron with the almonds, but that of apple and other fruits is yet to be seen and the problem of planting apple in saffron fields is its root rot disease which may prove harmful for saffron,” said Dr Nehvi. While in Iran, saffron is grown as a mono crop. About 22 scientists are working on this three year project and a total of 250 farmers have been selected for this project. “Each of these farmers has to give one kanal of land for experimentation work on the saffron growing in their fields. The saffron produced from their fields under scientific and controlled conditions will be sold under a special brand,” he said. “The brand will be owned by the University and the farmers and the saffron will be certified and sold by us directly. We are linking all the channels from production to consumption which were not there earlier.