Srinagar, Nov 27: More than 70 percent of Kashmir's saffron cash crop, one of the costliest spices of the world, has lost its purple bloom this season due to the hostile weather. Its prices have increased 60 to 80 percent.
To optimise revenues, trade representatives say, cheaper saffron imported from Iran is mixed with the prized local saffron and is sold in the name of Kashmir Saffron.
"One kilogram of pure saffron or 'kesar' is currently selling for Rs.250,000 ($4,000) to Rs.270,000 in the domestic market," Abdul Majeed Wani, chairman of the All Jammu and Kashmir Saffron Growers and Development Marketing Cooperative Association Ltd, told IANS.
Wani, who is himself a prominent saffron grower in Dusoo village in Pampore tehsil, said the current prices are Rs.100,000 to Rs.120,000 per kilogram higher than the normal price of around Rs.150,000 per kilogram.
The saffron growers' association has more than 2,500 members.
Trade representatives in Delhi said saffron imported from Iran is currently selling at Rs.100,000 to Rs.125,000 per kilogram in India.
Saffron, which is derived from the dried stigmas of the delicate purple coloured flower, grows once a year, in September-October. Its cultivation begins in October and continues till November.
In Jammu and Kashmir there are about 3,800 hectares under saffron cultivation, 90 percent of the total crop in Pampore, just 14 km from the capital city of Srinagar, in Pulwama district.
Last year the mountainous state produced 11 tonnes of saffron against the country's annual demand of about 40 tonne.
Agriculture director Mushtaq Peerzada said saffron cultivation has suffered heavily in Kashmir due to flash floods in September.
He said some 3,600 hectares of saffron fields have suffered an estimated damage of Rs.668 crore.
Horticulture joint director S.L. Hangloo said the decline in saffron production has severely hit the earnings of growers.
"It's one of the major foreign exchange earners for them. Most of the overseas orders have been cancelled. It's a major hit to the domestic saffron industry," he said.
The superior 'mongra' saffron variety grown in Kashmir commands a good market in Japan, Australia and Canada for its aphrodisiac properties.
"Our saffron is better than that of Iran," said Hangloo, whose department facilitates marketing of saffron along with fruit crops.
Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh, who laid the foundation stone for the saffron park in Pampore in August, expressed concern over the decline in area under saffron cultivation in Kashmir from about 5,707 hectares in 1996 to just 3,875 hectares in 2010-11, bringing down the production from 3.13 kg per hectare to 2.47 kg per hectares in the last few years.
The park, part of the National Mission on Saffron launched in 2010-11, will have common infrastructure for sorting, grading, packing, qualify control lab and e-auction centre among other latest facilities.
Under the mission, Rs.372.18 crore will be spent over four years in all the saffron-growing districts of the state.