So far, the cultivation of saffron – the most expensive spice – in India has been limited to a few areas in Jammu and Kashmir. The Ministry of Science and Technology, through the Department of Science and Technology (DST), is now looking at extending its cultivation to some states in the Northeast.
A pilot project has yielded successful results in Yangyang village of South Sikkim, which produced its first crop of saffron this September. It was grown across 1,000 square metres. Once the quality of the saffron is assessed, this will be scaled up ten times in Sikkim itself, said Dr Arun K Sarma, Director General, North East Centre For Technology Application and Reach (NECTAR), an autonomous body under the DST which implemented the project.
Saffron cultivation has long been restricted to a limited geographical area in J&K, mainly Pampore, followed by Budgam, Srinagar and Kishtwar districts.
India cultivates about 6 to 7 tonne of saffron annually, but in order to meet the 100 tonne demand, saffron is imported. A kilo of saffron grown here costs anywhere between Rs 1.5 to Rs 2 lakh.
The idea cropped up during a casual discussion among NECTAR scientists a few months ago and soon after, they began scouting for saffron growers in J&K.
The Botany and Horticulture departments of Sikkim Central University, which collaborated on the project, tested the soil pH in Yangyang, and found it similar to the saffron-growing areas of Kashmir, especially Pampore.
“With no prior experience in growing saffron, we sought help and appointed a Pampore-based farmer for this task. Seeds were specially procured from Pampore; sowing and other schedules, like those undertaken in Kashmir, were followed during September and October,” Krishna Kumar, a scientist at NECTAR, told The Indian Express.
“Saffron needs to remain underground for about 45 days at sub-zero temperatures. It also requires adequate rain, especially once sown in August,” said saffron cultivator Abdul Majeed Wani, president of the Saffron Growers Association from Pampore, J&K.
“Saffron seed/ corms were purchased and air-transported from Kashmir to Yangyang by the department. One saffron grower was engaged and stationed to look after the complete growing process, along with the faculty of the university,” the DST said in a statement.
The corms were irrigated during September and October, which ensured timely sprouting and good flower yields, it said.
“The first harvest obtained from the initially cultivated one kanal land has been good. It is currently undergoing post-harvest processing,” Kumar said, adding that it would be too early to comment on the quality of saffron.
“The pH level of the soil was a particularly important factor. Our Kashmiri saffron farmer involved in the project has found that the flower seems to be exactly the same as that grown in Kashmir, with similar properties such as the thickness etc. Nevertheless, we are carrying out a scientific analysis of the plant to see how it compares to the saffron plant in Kashmir… ,’’ said Sarma.
“We are also looking at extending the cultivation of saffron to Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh, where we feel that the conditions are favourable,’’ he said.
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