Rashid’s investigative reports are an eye opener. His multiple reports are followed at the end by an Editorial in the Rising Kashmir
(Mr. Rashid Paul, 40, was born at Ompora, near Budgam. He has a master’s degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from the University of Kashmir. He was with the Daily Excelsior before joining the Rising Kashmir as a senior correspondent. He follows business and economy, conflict, environment and power beats. He is also a documentary film maker.)
Govt Clueless on Saffron Production
Srinagar: Belying the official data that Kashmir only produced 8 metric tones (MT) of saffron in 2008, experts here say some 20 MT of the cash crop worth Rs 400 crores was produced during the same period.
Dr F A Nahvi, prominent saffronologist from SK University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (K) told Rising Kashmir that government figures about saffron are misleading. “We produce more than the official figure of 8 MT as nearly 7000 to 8000 hectares (ha) are currently under saffron cultivation in Kashmir and the yield per ha averages around 2.5 kilograms,” said Nahvi.
The over all production as per Nahvi’s assumption is 20 MT which in value terms means that Kashmir produces saffron worth Rs 400 crores annually.
The official numbers suggest that saffron production in Kashmir increased by 500 kilograms and reached 8.5 MT in 2009. The crop is cultivated on an area of 3265 hectares.
Nahvi’s premise is that Iran for the sake of monopolizing international saffron trade exaggerates the figures. “The country claims to have augmented its saffron production from 150 MT in 2006 to 250 MT in 2008,” says Nehvi, which according to Nahvi is not possible.
Large swathes of plateau land in Patttan, Chrar, Nagam, and Pulwama have come under saffron cultivation in Kashmir. Production is definitely higher than the official figure, he said.
Industry payers who trade in the cash crop too agree with experts.
Farooq Amin of Kanwal Spices citing statistics from Spice Board of India (SBI) in some way substantiates Nahvi. Farooq, also a member of SBI said 5.5 MT of saffron worth Rs 110 crores was exported by India in 2008-2009. Surely we produce a good quantity although the crop is facing official apathy.
Shakil Ahmed, spokesman of the Kashmir Saffron Growers and Dealers Association however says the production is not beyond 12 MT.
Showkat, another saffron dealer said the annual turnover of the golden spice is not more than Rs 250 to Rs 300 crores. “Our saffron has a wide domestic market and only a small quantity is exported. But the industry needs immediate attention,” he adds.
Lack of Irrigation Facility Fails Kashmir Saffron Yield
Srinagar: Although Kashmir places India among top three Saffron producers in international market; the cash crop is bereft of any official policy, proper irrigation facility and commodity risk protection.
The conflict ridden area produced adequate quantity of saffron during 2008-2009 leading to reduced saffron imports; 1.20 metric tones (MT) by India during the year. The country indeed exported 5.5 MT of world’s costliest spice during the period. However, few believe that water shortage, considered as a major obstacle will be tackled in foreseeable future as the entire cultivable area is rain fed.
The whole saffron land area (3265 ha official and 8000 ha unofficial) is rain fed and not even a single bore well has been arranged by the government during the past 63 years.
The yield is stagnant at 2.5 kilogram /ha which is even below the yield of war ravaged Afghanistan. It produces only 800 kilograms of saffron but with a yield of 6 kilograms/ha, according to Afghan official websites.
“Spain, one of the major saffron exporters provides sprinkle irrigation to its farmers and has a yield of 8 to 10 kgs /ha. The country has the best cultivation and post harvest practices in the world,” says saffron expert Dr F A Nahvi.
Iran, the major exporter of saffron has a yield of 4.5 kgs /ha, he added.
The government should take initiatives but farmers on their part need to take saffron cultivation seriously and adopt scientific procedures as recommended by experts, he suggested.
“Our crops are at the mercy of rain. We approached the government for a loan on sprinkle irrigation facility. But they turned their backs on us”, said Akil Ahmed a saffron grower from Pulwama.
Altaf Aijaz Andrabi, a senior official at the Agriculture department said Rs 1.06 crore has been earmarked for digging bore wells to provide spray irrigation to the fields in the first phase of Rashtriya Kisan Vikas Yojna. Certain beneficiaries have been identified for this year and the scheme will continue in the year ahead, he said.
Iranian Saffron Makes Inroads Into Kashmir Spice
Srinagar: In absence of proper quality control, branding and packaging, Iranian saffron is making heavy inroads into Indian markets as Kashmir product.
Since saffron produced in Iran is cheaper than its Kashmir grown species, many unscrupulous traders sell the product under Kashmir brand. One kilogram of Iranian saffron is sold at Rs one lakh in Indian market while Kashmir saffron fetches a price of more than Rs 1.30 lakh. Many local traders having fixed clientele across India import thousands of Iranian saffron by different means and blend it with Kashmiri saffron. The mixed condiment is then sold after making 30,000 bucks per kilogram.
“The practice is going on for years and turnover of the spurious trade runs in crores,” said Farooq Amin of Kanwal Spices, one of the leading spice manufacturers in the State. The illegal trade is going unabated in absence of quality control and certification from the government, he added.
‘Iranian saffron, which is inferior in colour, aroma, flavor and oil content, is smuggled in to India in large quantities and purchased by some unprincipled traders who trade it after mixing it with the Kashmiri product,” said Noor ud din Bhat of the Kashmir Kesar Mart, an export house of various Kashmiri products.
Bhat said saffron from other countries like Spain is properly graded, packed and branded. The illicit trade will continue until we increase our production substantially and lay modern pack houses with quality control laboratories.
Iqbal Khandey, Commissioner Agriculture production said, “I am not aware of any illegal mixing. I will study the matter. On quality control lab and monitoring mechanism he said I will consult my subordinate officials.
Meanwhile private players are getting ready to improve saffron packaging through partnerships with various organizations.
Farooq said that his company will set up a unit for packaging in collaboration with Spice Board of India. The Rs 3 crore project will have quality control lab that will guarantee real Kashmiri saffron in imaginative packs. It will be a cooperative venture with some 100 farmers, Farooq adds.
Growers Demand Listing of Saffron on MCX, NCDEX
Srinagar: With no effort being made to get Saffron listed in Indian commodity exchanges, the Rs 300 crore plus domestic industry faces an uncertain future. The uncomfortable fluctuation in prices tells on the livelihood of more than 16000 farm families that are directly dependent on the spice crop.
“We pleaded the state government for listing Kashmir saffron in commodities exchange of India but no effort has been made so far,” said Shakil Ahmed, spokesman of Kashmir Saffron Growers and Dealers Association. Shakil says that the crop generates an annual turnover of Rs 200 to 300 crore.
He said the growers are exploited by intermediaries and hardly get enough in return for their produce. Saffron farming is considered to be labour intensive. “Many farmers gave up the cultivation and shifted to other agricultural activates as returns are very discouraging,” Shakil said.
Shakil said that the government should help in formation of Farmers Federation for Saffron that will trade on the commodity exchanges on behalf of the saffron farmers.
The minister for agriculture Ghulam Hassan Mir said the government has not approached either the Multi Commodity Exchange of India (MCX) or National Commodities Exchange (NCEDX), which carry commodity exchange trade in India. However, we are striving for declaring Saffron as a national product so that it is sold under brand Kashmir. “I will study the subject and see how our farmers can be benefited through this system of trade,” Mir said.
According to unofficial data some 16000 farm families are associated with
Saffron cultivation in Kashmir and although the special commodity fetched a price of Rs 2.50 to 3 lakhs per Kilogram in 2008-2009, farmers moaned that they sold their harvest to traders at throwaway prices.
The future trading through commodities exchange can ensure due returns to farmers and remove their economic deprivation. Many commodities and derivative products in India are traded through MCX, NCDEX and other exchanges.
A farmer raising saffron can sell a future contract of his produce at a market determined price. The trading protects the farmer from price drops and the buyer from price rises. Producers sell directly to the exchange, which assures instant and guaranteed payment.
Saffron Adulteration (Editorial Comment)
Besides the issue of contamination, the saffron industry in Kashmir has a host of concerns to confront with
Past week saffron growers of Kashmir staged a series of protests against the inefficiency of government to take action against those who are included in fake saffron dealings and manufacture. Prior to this police claimed that 90 kgs of fake saffron along with raw material of 250 kgs of corn fiber and dyes (used for making fake saffron) were confiscated. This is not an event in isolation rather the prized commodity has been in the news for many years now.
The questions that demand immediate answers from the stake holders include reasons for the downfall of the saffron and what can be done to bring the commodity back on track within the short span of time. The saffron industry of Kashmir faces disparity on more than one count as official data and experts put forth varying figures. Take the case of industry size that official figures does not exceed Rs 160 crore while experts put the industry annual turnover anywhere between Rs 300- 400 crore. This calls for a ‘bottom up approach’ to arrive at the actual size of the saffron trade so that requisite steps may be taken. Next comes the question of yield, which a novice can see has remained stagnant for more than a decade now and looking at yield/hectare of different saffron producing regions, Kashmir has the distinction of being at the bottom of the ladder. The yield per hectare is less than one fourth that of Spain, one of the largest producers of saffron in the world where the crop gives 10kgs /hectare. Even the war ravaged Afghanistan that is devoid of basic infrastructure and agri-institutes claims of giving a yield of 6 kgs /hectare. Experts opine that one of the basic reasons for such low yield is the lack of irrigation facilities as almost all 3265 hectares that produce saffron is rain fed. On the face of it one fails to understand the reasons for not making available irrigation facilities to growers. Earmarking a meager amount during current year under the Centre sponsored scheme – Rashtriya Kisan Vikas Youjna will not suffice the purpose. The total saffron production also shows variation between the government and experts as official data reveals that Kashmir produces around 8 MT of the crop annually which again according to experts stands nowhere to the mark of 20MT. Even if the saffron industry is very small compared to other commodities that are produced in India but more than 16000 families are dependent on the crop for their livelihood. A uniform view among all the stakeholders puts factors like lack of irrigation facilities, non existing standardization norms, poor packaging and no marketing support as the prime reasons that have landed the commodity in the present mess. When Planning Commission of India can moot an idea of forming a Farmers Federation for Pulses to protect farmers from price fluctuations and external factors, what holds New Delhi back to initiate steps of similar nature for commodities that are grown in Kashmir including saffron. Government needs to make a focused approach to solve the ‘productivity paradox’ as it has been one of the limiting factors confronting by Kashmiri agriculture. Let the government concentrate on areas which are already producing the saffron for ages rather than experiment at new places. Creation of Saffron Board can be a good step to begin with.