Apart from being known from its mesmerizing beauty, the valley of Kashmir is also famous for its high-quality saffron, a spice derived from the crocus flower. Over the years, the world’s most expensive spice has seen a decline due to several factors and now due to COVID-19, the market demand has fallen.
The vast fields have turned in a purple canvas and people are busy picking the crocus flower with the first sunrise. The business remains a family affair as thousands of them gather to pick saffron threads by hand with the break of dawn. The purple blossom marks the arrival of winter in Kashmir.
Around first century BC, immigrants from Central Asia are believed to have introduced the Saffron cultivation to Kashmir and since then it has exponentially grown.
Primarily, the spice is commercially grown in Spain, Iran and India but the produce from the valley is considered the best in the World with high price value. From the last few years, the saffron crop has seen a decline in its production caused by several factors including erratic rainfall which experts link to Global warming.
“Global warming is a big factor. Rain doesn’t fall on time. The government had installed tube wells but irrigation doesn’t happen on time. We want the government to do something about this,” says Saqib Qadri, a farmer.
According to a data available, the production of Kashmiri saffron has declined by 65 per cent over 22 years and to save these farmers, the government has come to their rescue by issuing the certificate of geographical indication. This will make Kashmiri saffron stand out from the cheap Iranian variety which currently captures 90 per cent of the world market.
In order to produce just one kilogram of spice, around one lakh fifty thousand flowers must be picked one by one which is a herculean task.
“The opening of Saffron park by the government is a help. We also need proper water sprinkling. The government hasn’t been unable to provide us with this but we hope in a year or so, they do this,” Rafiq Ahmad says.
Kashmir saffron is used in health products, cosmetics and forms an integral part of traditional Kashmiri dishes.
The local produce is high in aroma with natural deep-red colour and long, thick stigma. This industry in Kashmir employs around one lakh twenty thousand people from about 226 villages and helps boost the rural economy.