Kashmir’s prize saffron industry is on the verge of extinction. More than natural reasons like erratic rainfall and drought, it is the rampant adulteration and cheaper Iranian imports that have dealt the serious blow to the industry. For being available at cheaper rate, the Iranian saffron has taken over the Kashmiri product in the entire Indian market. And what perturbs the saffron growers here is that the Iranian product is sold under Kashmiri tag.
Kashmir produces 13000 kilograms of saffron (crocus stavia kashmiriana) - a prized and costly ingredient used in medicines and south Asian cuisine annually- which yields an annual turnover of around Rs.200 crore. With timely rainfall this year, the growers expect that the saffron production could shot up to 15000 kilograms but the uncontrolled import of Iranian saffron is haunting them.
“The irony is that Iranian saffron is sold on the Kashmir tag. An influential caucus of saffron dealers imports the Iranian crocus, mixes it with the local production and sells it on the Kashmir brand name”, rues G M Pampori, President of Saffron Growers Association.
Saffron is the dried reddish-purple stigma painstakingly collected from billions of flowers grown on 4500 hectares of fertile land spread over 200 villages of the prosperous Pampore belt in the outskirts of Kashmir's winter capital, Srinagar. The Kashmiri saffron is priced at Rs 30000-35000 per kilogram. However, the availability of Iranian product, which sells just between Rs.18000-20000, has given the growers a tough time.
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 to take measures to check it," declares Agriculture Minister Abdul Aziz Zargar. He said that they have raised the issue with the central government many a times but the problem still existed. “We are brining a Bill in the state assembly by which we would fix a particular tag for our product to separate it out from the Iranian one”, Zargar told the Hindustan Times.
Kashmiri saffron is the most celebrated in the world, and experts stress for maintaining its high standard. Cultivated in a special eco-system, the saffron is produced only in Iran and parts of southern Europe, especially Spain. A study at the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKUAST) says that Kashmiri saffron is qualitatively very rich, containing 17 percent of crocin, the pigment which lends color and aroma to the spice.
The disappoinment among the growers has led many of them to turn the saffron fileds into residential areas. Houses and other structures have been raised in several portions of the saffron land in Pamore and adjoining areas. The overnment brought a legislation in the state assembly in August this year, banning everykind of contruction on the saffron land.