Saffron blooms in Cold Desert: Kargil’s triumph in cultivating the Red Gold

Kargil, Dec 25: In a groundbreaking agricultural endeavour, a resilient local resident in the cold desert region of Ladakh, Kargil, has embarked on a pioneering experiment—cultivating saffron in the heart of his hometown.

Known as the ‘Red Gold,’ saffron is a prized spice renowned for its exquisite aroma, distinct flavor, and vibrant hue. While traditionally synonymous with Kashmir, this unique farming initiative signals a shift as saffron finds new roots in Kargil, promising not only cultural significance but also potential commercial success. Historically associated with Iran and Kashmir, the cultivation of saffron is now forging an uncharted path in the high-altitude landscapes of Ladakh, where this coveted spice is considered to be as precious as gold itself.

This spice is known by various names in India, including zafran in Urdu, kesar in Hindi, kong posh in Kashmiri.

Mohammad Mehdi, a resident of Kargil who is working in the forest department here has taken the initiative to experiment with the cultivation of Saffron in his hometown. Mehdi, first in 2018 started cultivation of saffron however it had positive results with negative outcome due to the harsh climatic conditions in Ladakh during winters.

Reflecting on the journey, Mohammad Mehdi, expressed his initial challenges and the evolution of the project. ” I initially faced setbacks, experimenting with saffron in our kitchen garden, resulting in spoilage. Determined to understand the disparity in soil conditions” he explained. The cultivation setup involves maintaining a controlled temperature, replicating colder climates essential for saffron growth.”

For the first time cultivation of saffron in Kargil was started at the same location (Betsey Pa Nursery) way back in 2018 where we got some positive results with some sort of negative outcome. The positive result was that we were able to grow the crop and also get some flowers while on the other hand, corms were not able to survive the harsh winter conditions, which was a disappointing result” Mehdi told Greater Kashmir.

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“As time passed we made several attempts and finally, In the year 2023 we did the same experiment, but this time the corms were seeded at different depths under irrigated conditions, adding that the corms were brought from a progressive saffron grower in Pampore Kashmir. The size of the experimental area was 130 sq. feet with 3×16 feet beds each replicated thrice. A total of 520 corms were planted with a spacing of 20 cm × 10 cm  on 11 September 2023 and all the cultural practices needed to grow were followed.”

“Climatic conditions play an important role in the cultivation of saffron. This time the survival percentage of the corms was 95%. The number of days taken for the first flowering was 50 days after sowing and the first harvest was done on 53th day after sowing ( 3 November 2023) followed by 2nd harvest and 3rd harvest at an interval of 2 days,” Mehdi informed.

Mehdi said that with the guidance of SKUAST Kashmir and support of the UT administration and the concerned department the experiment of saffron cultivation yielded productive results. This innovative saffron cultivation experiment not only signifies a departure from traditional farming practices but also holds promise for local agricultural diversification, potentially positioning Ladakh as a place for saffron production, challenging its conventional geographical constraints. An official said that the LG administration of Ladakh is planning to promote saffron and tulip in Ladakh due to their potential as cash crops for the benefit of farmers/entrepreneurs from Ladakh.

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