Private Sector Investment for Saffron Seed Production – Jammu and Kashmir Latest News | Tourism

Chander Mohan Sharma

Since early July 2022, an entrepreneur was looking for 40-50 qtls of quality saffron seed bulbs to establish his project under controlled atmosphere conditions outside the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. He was willing to buy it from private growers, even at double the price set by the government ministry, but failed. After hard and door-to-door efforts, he was able to get around 10 qtl. seed and that too, much later than its desired date. Most of the amount of seed collected came from Kishtwar and the rest came from Kashmir. This episode highlights the main obstacle to the production of saffron at J&K, namely the insufficient availability of adequate and quality seeds.
Frequent occurrences of unfavorable weather conditions encourage the “fatal saffron corm rot disease” in the field and both of these conditions severely impair the rate of seed multiplication. These are causing serious setbacks to the acreage expansion programs that are very often considered for this very high value crop. Rapid urbanization is the other detrimental factor.
Area and production trends at J&K:
In 1997, saffron acreage at J&K was 5707 hectares, which fell to 3674 hectares in 2015. Saffron production during the same period increased from 15.95 metric tons to 9.6 metric tons during the same period. Lately, CSIR-IIIM, Jammu (2021) reports that the total area under saffron cultivation at J&K is 3715 ha, with production and productivity of 16 MT and 3.0-4.0 kg/ha, respectively .
Saffron in India is exclusively grown in Jammu and Kashmir and ranks second among saffron producers. Most of it grows in Kashmir division in Pulwama (86%), Budgam (8%) and Srinagar (4%) districts, but some amount also comes from Kishtwar (2%) district. It is reported that there is potential for saffron cultivation on about 600 hectares compared to the existing normal of about 120 hectares of land in Kishtwar. A few cases of saffron cultivation have been reported recently in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and even Rajasthan. But where is the seed?
High seed requirements:
It is reported that despite awareness campaigns and technical support from the government under the National Saffron Mission to revive and rejuvenate the saffron industry in Kashmir by popularizing the scientific production of saffron, saffron producers have showed poor adherence to the practice of changing bulbs/seeds. Growers sow 2.25,000 bulbs per hectare, when science suggests it should be 5,00,000. After a cycle of four years, farmers have to change the seeds, but they change the bulbs after many years, which which results not only in poor crop production, but also in reduced seed vigor.
Safran in a global context:
In the global context, India (specifically, J&K) is currently ranked the second largest producer of saffron, but it ranks twelfth among global saffron exporters and produces about 7% of the total global production. In comparison, Spain with only 600 ha of land is the 3rd producer with an average productivity of 8.33 kg/ha which is the highest in the world. Iran, Spain and Greece with intensive production technologies are able to achieve higher production and productivity than our productivity and pose a great threat to our saffron industry as imports are increasing every year.
Currently, saffron cultivation is grown in Iran, India, Afghanistan, Spain, Greece, Italy, Turkey, France, Switzerland, Israel, Azerbaijan, China, Egypt, Arab Emirates States, in Japan, in Iraq and recently in Australia (Tasmania). The total world production of dried saffron is estimated at around 325 tons per year.
Iran produces over 90% of the world’s total saffron production and accounts for 70% of global exports, despite the fact that the crocin content of J&K saffron – which gives saffron its darker color and medicinal value – is 8.72% compared to the Iranian product which contains 6.82%.
Global saffron trade:
In 2020, the global saffron trade was valued at $240 million. Between 2019 and 2020, Safran’s exports increased by 3.77%, from $231 million to $240 million. In 2020, the main exporters of saffron were Iran ($108 million), Spain ($50.8 million), Afghanistan ($45.4 million), United Arab Emirates (5, $86 million) and Greece ($5.19 million). A number of prestigious re-exporters such as Spain, France and Italy are reported to add value to bulk Iranian imports and resell the saffron at a higher price.
Saffron demand in India:
Facing the national demand of 100 MT, in addition to providing livelihood security to marginally poor J&K farmers, current consumption of saffron in India is estimated at 20 tons per year, half of which is met by major producers – l Iran, Spain and China. With a spice-loving population of over one billion, India’s production levels are insufficient to meet domestic demand. To meet this demand, $18.3 million worth of saffron was imported into India in 2018, making it the world’s fourth largest importer. India mainly imports saffron for consumption and not for re-export, unlike other major saffron exporters mentioned above. Other major importers of saffron are Hong Kong, Spain and Saudi Arabia. The United States then follows India.
Government interventions to promote exports:
In 2015, the Indian government established SPEDA (Saffron Production and Export Development Agency) to promote its production and export activities. Most of J&K’s saffron production is destined for the plains with exports of around four tons. Local brands are widely present in the country and there is an absence of major international/national brands. There is still an opportunity to develop a national brand of saffron.
Importance of Saffron:
India is a country where a burgeoning middle class is now seeking a wide range of health-promoting products, which is a major driver of increased consumption. Saffron is in high demand among consumers owing to its application in food and beverage industry, which is expected to be a significant driver for the growth of the global saffron market. In foods, saffron is used as a flavoring agent, spice, and yellow food coloring, making it one of consumers’ favorite spices. Apart from this, saffron is also used as a colorant, spice, perfume and for medicinal purposes. Saffron, unsurprisingly, is one of the most expensive spices in the world and also lends itself to a fascinating history of underground trade.
Considering parameters such as the importance of saffron as a very valuable spice and medicinal plant in national and international trade, the scope of acreage expansion in traditional and non-traditional areas, the need for To increase planting density, improve seed replacement rate (SRR) and advance tissue culture technology for quality seed production, it is proposed that:
a) The government should encourage private investors to seize the opportunity to establish biotechnology units in the healthy and peaceful environs of Kishtwar or Jammu for the mass production of quality saffron seeds under controlled atmospheric conditions through tissue culture techniques. It has been claimed on various technical platforms that the desired protocol exists for growing saffron seed bulbs in tissue culture in a standardized medium.
b) High quality seed production obtained under controlled conditions will meet the requirement to increase the area devoted to saffron cultivation.
c) Seed will become available through tissue culture technology for the higher recommended seeding density per unit area.
The intervention will facilitate the doubling of the average productivity of saffron, while efficient processing and marketing go hand in hand, to make it globally competitive and remunerative for producers.
(The author is Ret. Dy. Director of Agriculture, J&K)

Freeda S. Scott