While many countries – such as, Spain, Greece & Iran – produce and export saffron, Kashmiri zafran remains by far the most precious and finest spice in the world.
There are various legends of how saffron came to be in Kashmir, with some suggesting that the spice dates back to 500 B.C. in the region and was introduced by the Persians, who brought it as a means to further its trade and market.
Regardless of how the spice became mainstream in the region, Kashmir has remained the land which harvests saffron of unparalleled quality for centuries. The strands of saffron grown in Kashmir are much thicker, fragrant and finer than Iranian saffron, which now accounts for more than 90 percent of the world’s saffron production.
Most of Kashmiri saffron is grown in Pampore, a town south of Srinagar in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir.
Sadly, due to severe droughts, scarce rainfall and snowfall, climate change and the oppressive Indian occupation, Kashmiri saffron is now in threat of going extinct. It’s production levels now stand at one of the lowest recorded in history, with many farmers abandoning what was once the cash crop in the region.
To make matters worse, farmers are unable to merely voice their woes, as the Indian regime – which has deployed over 500,000 troops in IIOJK, making it the most militarized zone in the world – quells dissenting voices with an iron hand.
The Decline of Saffron Production
Kashmiri saffron’s production has dwindled rapidly over the past decades, with farmers who used to harvest 400 kilograms of the spice in the 1990s are now only able to procure less than 7 kilograms of the crop each season.
According to the Jammu and Kashmir Agriculture Department, more than 5,700 hectares of land was cultivated for saffron in 1997, which managed to produce just under 16 metric tons.
However, due to a severe drought and other ecological factors, the production of saffron nose-dived in the early-2000s, falling as low as 0.3 metric tons in 2001. The next 13 years would see an average of 8.71 metric tons yield, despite the massive floods in 2012 that brought about profound damage, washing away nutrients from agriculture lands.
What is being done to mitigate this predicament, you may wonder? Well, in 2010, the Indian government initiated a four-year mission to increase and revive saffron production in Kashmir. It was named the National Saffron Mission and was under the Ministry of Science and Technology.
A budget of 4.1 billion INR was allocated to fund the project which was aiming to reconcile Kashmiri farmers with the changing nature of their job, to provide various means to irrigate farmlands, to enhance the quality of the seeds, to increase productivity by researching new methods, and to educate the indigenous farmers about the changing dynamics of agriculture around the world.
Regrettably, the National Saffron Mission wasn’t able to attain much success. The mission, which had initially been a four-year project, was extended by the Indian government in 2014 as production levels did not witness any conceivable increase.
Saffron production is also projected to deteriorate in the near future in Iran’s Khorasan province as well, which accounts for most of saffron yield in the country.
Mr. Rahmatullah Gheshm, an Iranian post-doctoral fellow in agroecology at the University of Rhode Island who believes saffron is ‘endangered’, has predicted that Iran’s production of the spice will drop by half in the next decade.
Meanwhile, farmers in Kashmir have now began exploring other options such as garlic, apples and walnuts in the face of declining saffron yield.
Unless a rigorous mechanism to revive saffron fueled by the prevalence of peace instead of violence in the region is not initiated by the government which currently controls the region, the day is not far when saffron will near extinction in the valley of Kashmir.