Kashmir: Farmers Grow Saffron Indoors to Tackle Rising Demand, Climate Change
Srinagar: Farmers in Kashmir's saffron bowl of Pampore are growing saffron indoors, the growers believe, could be decisive for the survival of the trademark spice, marred by rampant urbanisation, rising pollution and climate change.
Abdul Majid Wani is the first saffron grower to have attempted to cultivate the spice indoors three years ago. This year, nearly a dozen other farmers grew the saffron in trays at their respective residences and the results, he says, are phenomenal.
"I was the first one to try, and I was skeptical in the beginning, but it has been successful so far. The most important part is that the crop has retained the quality," Wani said.
There were several reasons for Wani to attempt indoor farming for saffron, which mostly grows in the plateaus of the Pampore area of Srinagar's outskirts.
"We can easily manage it as it remains unaffected in case of excessive rain or heat," Wani said.
According to the saffron farmer, the demand for saffron, one of the costliest spices in the world, has increased significantly. With the help of indoor cultivation, the demand can be met, and people with no land can also grow it in their homes.
"I am also trying to make it feasible for anyone who wants to grow it at home, like residents of the Srinagar city who do not have land for cultivation," Wani added.
Saffron farmers, including Wani, say that the fields known for saffron yield have been deeply impacted by rising pollution levels from the nearby industrial area, especially from the cement factories. The saffron fields in at least seven villages closer to these factories in the upper part of Pampore are unable to yield any crop, the growers say.
"The plant growth has also reduced significantly. The growth that we witnessed in one year takes about ten years now, and we are unable to do anything about it," Wani said.
Dr Bashir Alie, head of Advance Research Station for Saffron and Seed Spices, has been involved in a field awareness programme for enhancing saffron yield in Pampore fields.
Alie says climate change is a reality now and poses a risk to saffron fields which were very productive just twenty years back, adding that there is a need to irrigate saffron fields now, which was not the case earlier.
"Now we are witnessing a decline in production primarily due to climate change. The farmers complain about erratic weather changes. When there is a need for rain, the sun shines, and when the crop requires heat, it begins to rain," Alie said.
Saffron is cultivated in over 3,715 hectares of land in Jammu and Kashmir, making it the second largest producer in the world after Iran. Most of the produce comes from the Pulwama district, where it is grown on as many as 3,200 hectares, while in Srinagar and Budgam, it is cultivated in around 170 and 330 hectares of land, respectively. Saffron also grows in Jammu's Kishtwar region, where 150 hectares of land is under saffron cultivation, according to official figures.
A healthy bud, which is above 15 grams, can give up to five flowers. One kanal of land can yield 250 to 350 grams of saffron, which can be sold anywhere between Rs 1.5-3 lakh/kg in the Indian markets and at even higher prices outside. Since 2014, saffron produce has suffered a major setback due to erratic weather and drought conditions. There has been a recovery since 2017. However, the harvest since last year has been bumper.
Wani says saffron farmers have to adopt new techniques and practices to battle changes due to climate change or witness a decline in the prized crop, considered a key part of their economy and social and cultural identity. Indoor farming, he says, can bring much-needed relief.
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