The agriculture department in Jammu and Kashmir's Kathua District has been distributing free saffron seeds to farmers with the objective of promoting its cultivation.
The farming of saffron is usually undertaken in areas of higher altitude in the Kashmir Valley, particularly the areas around Kishtwar District, which is considered the major domain of saffron production.
However, in a bid to boost production of saffron in other areas, the state agriculture department conducted a training session for cultivators in Kathua.
Deputy Commissioner of Kathua, Zahida Parveen Khan, said that on experimentation, the agriculture department found this area to be apt for saffron production.
"Our agriculture department experimented for multi-cropping in the region in the last few years. And, it is a matter of great happiness that they found this region to have great potential to grow saffron," she said.
She added that the cultivation will also help the farmers economically as saffron is a rare variety and is sold at high prices.
The training was conducted to check the fall in production from yields of four kilograms per hectare to two kilograms over the years, due to poor irrigation facilities.
The delicate saffron flowers begin to grow after the first rains and the blooming period is usually around mid-October, following which the flowers are harvested.
Mohammad Ashraf, a saffron farmer, said that the region provides perfect climate to grow saffron and therefore, they expect they will sow in larger areas in the years to come.
"The agriculture department has provided free of costs saffron seeds to us and we were told to sow and see if it grows in our fields. It has been proved that saffron can grow in this region as well and if we work hard, it will be very good for us. Our atmosphere is similar to Kashmir. This is also a mountainous region and we also have snowfall and dense Deodar forests, which make the climatic apt for saffron cultivation. Therefore, we had a good yield and we plucked the flowers on our own. Right now we have sown in small areas and next year we will sow it in a bigger area, which will be more beneficial for us," he said.
The demand for saffron continues to be high, as it is desired all over the world for its aroma, colouring and aphrodisiac properties. It is one of the world's most expensive spices.
It is sold for rupees 85,000 per 85 grams in the domestic market, and offers livelihood to saffron farmers in five districts across the state.
Altaf Hussain, another saffron farmer, said that he earlier used to grow vegetables but now he wants to substitute it with saffron.
"I had sown saffron and it is very easy to sow. We have to work very hard while growing vegetables, but saffron cultivation does not require so much of hard work. I am trying to substitute vegetable farming with saffron," he said.
Kashmir's cool climate and rich soil, make the location an ideal thriving ground for this spice, but a lapse in any one of the conditions can spoil the entire crop.
Kashmiri saffron besides having medicinal value is a natural dyestuff. It is an expensive spice in the world used on various functions by adding delicate aroma, pleasing flavour and magnificent yellow colour to food. Its colour is sharp and penetrating.
Apart from Kashmir, saffron is grown mostly at two places in the world, Iran and Spain. (ANI)