Saffron Cultivation in Kishtwar

Dr Banarsi Lal, Dr AS Charak
Jammu and Kashmir is a mountainous Union Territory in which Jammu region is predominantly sub-tropical while Kashmir region is temperate. Agriculture plays the pivotal role in the economy of this beautiful Union Territory and most of the people of J&K are associated with it. Agricultural sector is very vast and it provides employment directly or indirectly to around 70 per cent of J&K population. Agriculture contributes about the significant amount of J&K revenue which signifies the overdependence of J&K on agriculture. The average size of land holding of the J&K is only 0.62 hectare against 1.15 hectares’ land holding size on national basis. About 30 per cent of the area of J&K is under cultivation. J&K is rich in agro-biodiversity. The average annual rainfall of these two regions is 1069mm and 660mm respectively.
Saffron (Crocus sativus) is considered as the highest priced spice in the world. Saffron is a slender, dried, reddish brown, flattened stigma of cultivated saffron plant. It has various names such as Kesar, Zafran, Kang Posh etc. Saffron flowers are the symbol of freshness and purity. There are various types of flowers grown in the Union Territory of J&K but saffron flowers have their own utility and importance. In the Indian agriculture, saffron cultivation is also known as the ‘Golden Zest’. Saffron is one of the most important spices in J&K. Union Territory of J&K has monopoly in the saffron cultivation in India. In India, 5,707 hectares of land comes under saffron cultivation and out of it 4,496 hectares of land is cultivated in J&K. After fruits production saffron cultivation is the second largest activity in J&K. J&K has monopoly in the saffron cultivation in India. About 7.3 per cent of world saffron is produced from J&K. India is at third rank in saffron production in the world. The diverse climatic conditions, fertile soil, sub-tropical, semi-temperate, temperate and arid climatic conditions in J&K offer an immense scope for cultivation and production of different crops. Among the major horticultural products saffron is one of the most important exporting crops and plays an important role in income and employment generation for the rural people of temperate regions of J&K. The main cultivation areas of saffron are Kharewa, Chandhora, Kishtwar and Pampore in J&K. District Pulwama, is commonly known as saffron bowl of Kashmir. It is dominant in saffron production followed by Budgam, Srinagar and Kishtwar districts. A hundred kg of fresh saffron flowers yield about three Kg of dehydrated stigmas. Pure saffron consists of only the orange-red stigmas of the saffron plant. It is estimated that about 49 per cent of saffron produce is exported from J&K state. Saffron cultivation in J&K has its historical roots from Iran where world’s largest amount (about70 per cent) of saffron is produced.
Kishtwar district of J&K is situated at an altitude of 5351 ft. from the MSL with a temperate climate. The soils of Kishtwar district are appropriate for the saffron cultivation on the basis of soil texture, soil structure, soil profile, PH value and chemical characteristics. Kishtwar is a unique land of saffron. It is well known for quality saffron production. The district is blessed with lofty mountains and sloppy hills around which bestow upon its grandeur and fascinating look for the onlookers.In Jammu province, Kishtwar is the only Saffron producing district. Kishtwar saffron is very famous due to its fine flavour, colour and medicinal value. It is a very popular crop in the region and is considered as the costliest crop for the farmers of the area. It is low volume cash crop. The saffron is one of the oldest commodities of Kishtwar district. The main marketing channels are brokers/local traders/cooperative societies etc.
Villages namely Thakraie, Kuchhal, Kuchhan, Bunjwah, Inderwal/Chatru, Palmar, Trigam, Poochal, Dool, Padyarna, Na-gseni, Paddar (Ligri &Tata Pani) and some villages of Drabshala and Dachhan blocks are known for commercial cultivation of saffron in Kishtwar district. About 202 hectares of land in Kishtwar district is occupied by the saffron. About 5-6 quintals of saffron is produced annually from these areas. It takes about 4, 50,000 stigmas or 1, 50,000 flowers to produce 1Kg of saffron spice. The flowering stage of saffron starts from Oct. /Nov. and continues for three weeks. Each flower lives for about 48 hours. Traditionally harvesting is carried out by hand. But during the last few years the production the saffron cultivation is under threat due to uncertain climatic conditions and the insufficient irrigation facilities in Kishtwar district. There is need to enhance the area, production and the productivity of this important spice in the district as it is an excellent source of earning for the farmers. Quality research and irrigation facilities are needed in the saffron cultivation in the district. There is also need to evaluate the possibility of ‘organic farming’ of saffron in the district for improving farmers’ income opportunities.
Saffron has many uses in industries such as food, pharmaceutical, cosmetic and perfumery as well as in the textile dyes. It is very effective in the treatment of various diseases. Saffron stigma has antioxidant activity and thus it prevents the degeneration of cells by free radicals. The components of saffron, crocin and safranal shows role in the suppression of inflammatory pain responses, decreases the number of neutrophils and also possesses strong activity against various bacteria and fungi. It has a protective effect against nephrotoxicity and is cardio-protective. It reduces the fasting blood glucose levels and also exhibits an anti-tumour effect through inactivation or activation of different molecular cascades. It is also used in the manufacture of perfume. It is considered as the panacea for the various diseases of males and females.
There is need to constitute special policies to strengthen the saffron cultivation in Kishtwar district so that the income and employment among the farmers can be enhanced. Special incentives should be provided to the saffron growers in the district. Farmers of Kishtwar district have positive attitude towards saffron crop cultivation. Keeping in view the importance of saffron industry in Kishtwar, saffron growers need more financial support and expertise to protect the future of the saffron cultivation in the district and they need more technical guidelines. There is need of quality planting material, co-operative societies and proper trainings for its post-harvest management. There is need to build strong linkage between the farmers, extension workers and scientists to increase the production and productivity of saffron in Kishtwar district. There is ample scope for maximizing profitability of this crop for Kishtwar saffron growers, provided that sincere efforts are made. Initiatives are needed by adopting strict quality control measures, mechanizing production and introducing marketing interventions. Adoption of novel scientific technologies, including biotechnology can go a long way to reduce the costs of saffron production in the area.