Saffron cultivation under greenhouse conditions

Saffron is one of the most profitable cash crops that is perennial in nature. It is derived from the Crocus Sativus plant. It is purple in color having six petals, red stigmas, and three stamens. It is the stigmas that carry the actual worth. Saffron farming nowadays takes place in Iran, India, Spain, Italy, Greece, France, Turkey, Pakistan, Israel, Azerbaijan, Switzerland, China, Egypt, Afghanistan, Japan, Iraq, Australia, and UAE (Nehvi et al., 2007). Iran, Spain, and India are yet the major saffron producing countries in the world. Global trade and commerce are dominated by saffron as its exports are part and parcel of our ordinary business of life. Iran is the king of the saffron market and is the major stakeholder in both area and production terms. Iranian saffron is flooded in Kashmir after the culmination of winters. However, Spain is the main market followed by France, USA, UK, UAE, Israel, etc. For the past few decades, there has been a decline in the production, productivity, and area of cultivation that is why there is a dip in saffron trade in India.

In the world saffron is the only product which is sold in grams. Depending upon the quality of saffron corms and under best cultivation practices, one hectare of land under saffron has the capacity to generate 1 to 2 Kg of saffron. Given the fact that productivity and production under greenhouse circumstances can be 10 to 12 times higher than under open field cultivation,  keeping in view factors such as crop type, kind of greenhouse structure, and environmental amenities, it is not bad at all to switch to greenhouse technology in saffron. Productivity and production will increase alongside trustworthiness the moment we embrace this technology. In addition, under the greenhouse framework cultivation practices are easy to manage and water requirement also less. Accordingly, greenhouse technology has huge prospects especially for the horticulture sector and saffron is the main horticulture crop with very high market value and high efficacy.

A million dollars’ worth question is what we mean by the greenhouse structure. It is an enclosed structure covered with a transparent material in order to grow crops either under partial or fully controlled environmental conditions to get optimal growth. It, therefore, provides a suitable or favorable environment to the plants. For the past many years especially after the flood that took place in September 2014 ecological system of Jammu and Kashmir became unstable. Greenhouse technology is most suitable for observing and controlling the ecological system instability. Since with September 2014 floods saffron industry was the worst hit with falling production levels thereafter, it is better to choose a greenhouse alternative to improve this very industry. An optimum day temperatures required for the growth of saffron plant are 20̊  to22̊ C. Extreme temperature (hot and cold climates) retard its growth while temperate type of climate enhances its growth and accordingly, greenhouse structure best suits such climatic conditions.

The flowering of saffron crops greatly depends upon the photoperiod. An optimum of about 12 hours light period is very important for the vegetative growth of saffron involving the photosynthesis process. Cultivation of saffron on cost-effective and greenhouse lines is very challenging and demanding in terms of relative humidity and temperature. It is therefore interesting to use greenhouses for production, mostly for reducing the growth cycle, early harvest, and very high likelihood of growing in offseason when the climate of the area is not suitable.

Saffron farming has been facing hard livelihood security and sustainable development challenges thereby necessitating the adoption of suitable technologies (FAO, 2012) including economical greenhouse technology. In present-day times, Kashmiri saffron is facing marketing problems mainly on an account of the poor quality due to traditional post-harvest methods, low level of education, and low levels of production. Therefore, advanced technologies especially greenhouse kind of technology are to be made available to growers majority of who are small  so that it can ensure the best quality and reduce costs to a great extent.

More than 15000 farm families from more than 200 villages earn their living through saffron cultivation directly or indirectly which is why its production needs improvement. In addition, the role of women is equally important especially in harvesting and post-harvest processes. In all major saffron-producing villages of Pampore we find women’s role very prominent and hence, saffron under cost-effective greenhouse technology can provide them employment opportunities alongside a new learning experience. After fruit production, it is saffron farming which is the main contributor to the Gross Domestic Product of Jammu and Kashmir. We find many intermediaries involved in saffron marketing in-between grower and end-user or final consumer. It has dalals and local traders, retailers, wholesalers, sub-firms, and firms. Accordingly, the share of the grower in consumer rupee and marketing margin remains very low because these intermediaries exploit them especially dalals or local traders. As a result, there are price fluctuations. The government in general and the agriculture department, in particular, should set up a high-tech lab at major saffron growing villages that will serve as Mandi displaying prices on a daily or weekly basis so that growers’ income will increase.

Binish Qadri ICSSR Doctoral Fellow pursuing Ph.D. in Economics at Department of Economics, Central University of Kashmir; Quarterly Franklin Member, London Journals Press.