Saffron growers in Kashmir should have been happy this year. The rains have been good, which means production is expected to go up. But they are a worried lot. Rampant adulteration and unchecked import of the cheaper Iranian variety have pushed Kashmir’s saffron industry to the verge of extinction.
The Iranian saffron has overtaken the Kashmiri product in the entire Indian market since it is available at a cheaper rate. And what perturbs the saffron growers most is that it is sold under the Kashmiri tag.
Kashmir annually produces 13,000 kilograms of saffron (crocus stavia kashmiriana) — a costly ingredient used in medicines and south Asian cuisine. This yields an annual turnover of around Rs 200 crore. This year, the growers expect the production to shoot up to 15,000 kilograms but the uncontrolled import of Iranian saffron is haunting them.
Saffron is the dried reddish-purple stigma painstakingly collected from billions of flowers grown on 4,500 hectares of fertile land spread over 200 villages in the prosperous Pampore belt on the outskirts of Srinagar.
The Kashmiri saffron is priced at Rs 30,000-35,000 per kilogram. The Iranian variety sells for Rs 18,000-20,000 a kg.
But the Kashmiri saffron is considered to be of superior quality. A study at the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology says that Kashmiri saffron is qualitatively very rich, containing 17 per cent crocin, the pigment that lends colour and aroma to the spice. Besides Kashmir, saffron is produced only in Iran and parts of southern Europe, especially Spain.
“The irony is that Iranian saffron is sold with the Kashmir tag. An influential caucus of saffron dealers imports the Iranian crocus, mixes it with the local production and sells it as Kashmiri saffron,” said G.M. Pampori, president of the Saffron Growers Association.
Ironically, there is no official agency to check the menace. "We have reports that our saffron is being adulterated by vested interests, and are seriously contemplating measures to check it," declared Agriculture Minister Abdul Aziz Zargar.