How Sikkim and Kashmir are co-partnering on saffron cultivation?

Gangtok: The states of Sikkim and Jammu and Kashmir may not have much in common. However, the two states are now keen on partnering on cultivation to ensure mutual benefit. While Sikkim eyes saffron cultivation, Kashmir could benefit from cultivating spices like cardamom.

Research conducted by Sikkim University (SU) had pushed for cultivating saffron in Sikkim, which was endorsed by Governor Ganga Prasad, Chief Minister Prem Singh Golay and the state horticulture department. The idea also garnered the attention of Jammu and Kashmir’s Horticulture Director Chaudhary Iqbal Mohammed, who soon carried out a field study in Sikkim. His subsequent visits ensured farms were ready for ‘trial cultivation’ in several parts of Sikkim.

In the latest effort in this initiative, the Sikkim Governor and the Chief Minister met Chaudhary Iqbal Mohammed, horticulture director, Jammu, and the team from Sikkim University to discuss the feasibility of saffron cultivation and understand the progress made so far.

SU VC Avinash Khare backed the claim that Sikkim had cleared the ‘ first phase’ in saffron cultivation, with more ideas to be shared with counterparts from Jammu and Kashmir, as the saffron cultivation has been aimed to ‘benefit Sikkimese farmers.’

Researchers of Sikkim University and other officials with Sikkim CM Prem Singh Golay (fourth from left), Governor Ganga Prasad (sixth from left) and Chaudhary Iqbal Mohammed, horticulture director, Jammu (third from right).

SU professor Shanti Swarup Sharma, who presented the research and results on saffron cultivation in Sikkim, shared, “We initially tried in Yangang, South Sikkim, and it flowered. But it needed a colder climate. Our team from Sikkim University reached Kashmir to learn more. There we learned that farming saffron did not need much rain. So, we shortlisted 11 locations in Sikkim. Renowned saffron farmer and Kashmir Horticulture Director Chaudhary Iqbal Mohammed provided us with 300 kg of saffron seeds (corns) under the Kashmir government’s initiative ‘Parvaaz‘ devoted toward fruit cultivation in Kashmir. Later, two saffron farmers from Kashmir joined us to lay the saffron corns on our fields. We generated daughter corns from the mother corns provided by Kashmir. The same had flourished in Okhrey, West Sikkim generating 10-15 kgs of saffron corns with wet weight.”

Iqbal Mohammed highlighted how saffron could play a bridging role between Sikkim and Jammu & Kashmir. He shared, “We went across Sikkim and carried out climate study for feasibility. Some basic parameters like soil texture and rainfall were also studied in our three visits to the state so far. Seeing Sikkim government’s dedication towards farming and farmers, we are hopeful that cultivation will find a way. The two trial farms we saw. so far, have shown positive results. But it depends on soil and temperature, as saffron requires cold temperatures. The average rainfall in Sikkim has a long period. If water stays for 32 hours on a farm, then it could be a problem. The size of the daughter corns also seems good in terms of their growth to 5-8 gm in weight, which is necessary. It is underground multiplication which is a necessity. Wherever we have seen, it is a success story so far in Sikkim.”

However, Iqbal Mohammed also shared: “One farm was completely damaged due to water clogging. It rains till August-end here in Sikkim, after which, we will carry a short visit to check on results post Monsoon. We can aid the farmers through video calls and visuals until then. We feel drainage improvement on saffron fields is necessary. The percolation capacity of the soils in Sikkim is more, resulting in leaching. Even if rain causes problems we will find a solution. If we make shelter web with bamboo, it may work. Rainfall is a big concern. We are hopeful to bring central and state schemes to make saffron cultivation in Sikkim work.”

Iqbal Mohammed also stressed an understanding between the two state governments for the export and import of seeds for other spices, with a keen eye on Sikkim’s cardamom. “Sikkim can be a seed-producing state. Organic farming here has already been initiated. There is no other place which can generate organic seeds,” he added.

Chief Minister Prem Singh Golay shared that Sikkim Government will research and visit Kashmir on July 11. “Sikkim had never thought of Saffron farming. The feasibility research carried out by Sikkim University is praiseworthy. They felt it can happen as in Kashmir, with the intention of aiding the Sikkimese farmers. We have seen the first phase of seed germination where it can be possible…for technical support, we have the Kashmir government. We will take our organic products to them and get saffron from them. We will also ensure that our Budgetary allocation towards horticulture will now also include saffron farming,” he said.

Governor Ganga Prasad in his address at the gathering, shared, “Farming interactions such as these are important as rural areas are diminishing and urban areas increasing. The saffron cultivation in Sikkim started in 2020 and received a push for more cultivation in 2021. The need for inter-state discussion on the possibility of saffron cultivation has brought Kashmir’s horticulture director and saffron farmers here in Sikkim. Through their support, in 2021 the flowering of saffron did happen in Sikkim. There was better colour here than compared to even Kashmir. The initiative is praiseworthy. Such enthusiasm from officials from Kashmir will help us. They have expressed happiness that Sikkim does seem suitable for saffron cultivation.”

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