Saffron: Present status and future strategies


World’s precious spice being grown in Pampore, parts of Chrar-e-Sharief and certain belts in Kishtwar is witnessing a fall in overall production. Central and state governments have launched a Saffron Mission to halt the trend and improve the overall production. Central Institute of Temperate Horticulture, an extension of Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) that has vast farm labs spread over hundreds of kanals of land in the Demodar Karewa (read Old Air Port) has come out with a detailed paper on the spice. Kashmir Life is reproducing the paper with special thanks to its Director Dr Nazeer Ahmad. Enjoy the read:

Central Institute of Temperate Horticulture, an extension of Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) has vast farm labs for Saffron Cultivation-- Photo: Bilal Bahadur.
Central Institute of Temperate Horticulture, an extension of Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) that has vast farm labs



Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) a perennial herb belongs to Iris family Iridaceae is the most expensive spice in the world known for its aroma and colour and used for flavouring and colouring in medicinal and pharmaceutical industries. It is derived from the dry stigmas of the plant popularly known as the “Golden Condiment”. It contains crocin, picrocrocin and saffranal which are very important constituents for both medicinal and aesthetic purpose. Due to very high crocin content and rich aroma, the Kashmiri saffron is famous worldwide and commands a premium price over the saffron available from Spain or Iran. It is a legendry crop of Jammu and Kashmir produced on well drained karewa soils of Kashmir and Kishtawad where ideal climatic conditions are available for good growth and flower production. It grows at an elevation of 1500-2000m amsl. Photoperiod and temperature exerts a considerable influence on the flowering of saffron. An optimum period of 11 hours illumination and moderate temperature of about 18-200C during flowering is found optimum. Unusually low temperature coupled with high humidity during flowering season affects flowering. Spring rains boost production of new corms. Slightly acidic to neutral, gravelly, loamy, sandy soils are suitable for saffron cultivation. The plants are bulbous, perennial with globular corms, 15-20 cm high. It has 6 to 10 leaves present at anthesis, one to two flowers with a lilac-purple colour with perianth segments of 3.5-5 cm and style branches of 2.5-3.8 cm arise directly from the corms. Flowers have tri-lobed stigma, which along with the style top forms the commercial saffron. These stigmas along with their styles are dried to form the most precious spice.


Saffron cultivation in Kashmir

In Kashmir, the saffron cultivation begins first by the preparation of the fields in early July. The earth is tilled with the traditional hoe or tractors and from the loosened earth raised beds of convenient size formed which provides good soil aeration and drainage on which corms are planted. By October end the blossoms are in full bloom. The stigmas are bright orange-red and are clearly visible among the lilac flowers. The harvesting is done regularly once the blossoms reach maturity to get the stigmas in their prime. The flowers bloom only in the morning making early picking necessary. Traditionally, planting, harvesting, separation of the stigma from the flower, drying of the saffron is done by all the members of the family. Timing of harvest and speedy processing is very important, as there can be rapid loss of quality, particularly in the colouring and aromatic properties of the saffron. Simultaneously, while the crocus blooms are being collected, the stigmas are separated from the flowers. The stigmas are naturally and slowly dried, where the stigma shrinks to one fifth of its original size and enhances its bright red colour. Stigmas are either dried under sun or by using blower dryers for fast drying. People prefer sun drying under partial shade to preserve the shiny colour of the saffron. Rigid, dry and stigmas without wrinkles are preferred for use. About 150,000 fresh flowers yield about one kilogram of stigma.

Table-1: The yield of saffron in different years of age of the field

Age of the field years

Flower yield


Dry saffron yield (kg/ha)

1st year



2nd year



3rd year



4th year



5th year



6th year



7th year



8th year



Average of 8 years




Area, production and productivity:


In the world, Iran, Greece, Spain and India are the major saffron producing countries with, Iran occupying the maximum area of 43,408 hectares with a total  production of 174 tons, and productivity 4.00 kg/ha, contributing about 88% to world’s saffron production. Though, India occupies the 2nd largest area of 3265/ha but the production is only 7.50 tons with an average productivity of 2.30 kg/ha. Spain, however with 600 ha of land is the 3rd largest producer with an average productivity of 8.33 kg/ha which is highest in the world (Table-2).


Table-2: Saffron Production- World Scenario

Country Area (ha) Production (MT) Yield (kg/ha)
Iran 43,408 (87.7) 174.00 (88.89) 4.00
India 3,265(6.59) 7.50 (3.83) 2.29
Greece 1,000 (2.02) 4.30 (2.19) 4.30
Azerbaijan 675 (1.36) 3.70 (1.88) 5.48
Spain 600 (1.21) 5.00 (2.54) 8.33
Morocco 500 (1.01) 1.00 (0.50) 2.00
Italy 29.4 (0.06) 0.24(0.12) 8.16
Total 49477.4 195.74 3.96


The leading saffron growing countries like Iran, Spain and Greece with intensive production technologies  are able to achieve higher production and productivity (4-8 kg/ha) which is much higher than our productivity and posing great threat to our saffron industry as imports are increasing every year. Thus, there is a need to increase production by bringing more area under cultivation and double the average productivity by adopting intensive production system, efficient processing and marketing to make it globally competitive and remunerative to growers. Unfortunately, from the last few years, both area and production in J&K has come down from 5707 ha area in 1996-97 to 2742 ha during 2003-04 and the production from 15.95 MT to just 5.15 MT. After 2003-04 with the coming of Horticulture Technology Mission (MM-I and MM-II), the crop got the technological boost and incentives for area expansion and production with the result area since then increased from 3143 to 3785 ha and production from 6.86 to 9.46 MT by 2009-10 (Table-2).

Table-3: Trends in area, production and productivity of saffron in J&K since 1996-97

Year Area (ha) Production (MT) Productivity (kg/ha)
1996-97 5707 15.59 2.80
1998-99 4116 12.88 3.13
1999-00 3997 73.65 1.89
2000-01 2831 3.59 1.27
2001-02 2713 0.30 0.095
2002-03 2825 6.05 2.28
2003-04 2742 5.15 1.88
2004-05 3143 6.86 2.23
2005-06 3200 7.50 2.34
2006-07 3010 6.50 2.15
2007-08 3280 8.20 2.50
2008-09 3280 7.70 2.34
2009-10 3785 9.46 2.50

                  (Source: Directorate of Agri., Kashmir)

Table: 4 Import of saffron from India












Table: 5 Domestic price of saffron in India       (Av. over 2 months April/May)

Year Av. Price (Rs. in Lakh/kg)
2005-06 0.298
2006-07 0.438
2007-08 1.123
2008-09 1.891
2009-10 2.701
2010-11 1.745

                                                                          (Source: Spice Board of India)

 Factors of low productivity and strategies for improvement:


The productivity of saffron is very low mainly because saffron is grown as rainfed , so soils are thirsty and unfertile and overloaded with pathogenic fungi and rodents. Irrigation and nutrient management, corm rot and rodent control shall be the crucial factor to achieve high productivity. The traditional method of long planting cycles of 10 -12 years are not good to manage as there is low plant population due to corm rot, no irrigation, hardly any manure and fertilizer application resulting in too many non-productive corms. To improve production and productivity, the weaknesses in our production system need to be upgraded and replaced with new elite high yielding clones and intensive production and protection technologies including the large scale production of quality flower bearing corms and its post harvest management so that that the production and productivity doubled.


Factors responsible for reduction in area and productivity and technological interventions required for productivity enhancement.


Factors responsible for area reduction.

Technological Interventions

  • Increasing population, urbanization and high land cost.
  • Low production and productivity



  • Low price, poor marketing, adulteration and competition
  • Lack of motivation and incentives for cultivation


  • Insufficient corm production and supply


  • Ageing of traditional growers and lack of labour
  • Out dated cultivation techniques and absence of mechanization
  • Lack of sector innovation and renewal of sick industry


Demarcation of saffron areas and ceiling on sale of land, area expansionTraditional cultivation to be replaced with intensive production technology (High density, INM and IPM , Micro Irrigation and Fertigation)

Pricing, brand name, quality control


Govt. incentives, infrastructure and input supply, usefulness-low volume, high cost, remunerative enter price

Large scale multiplication of healthy corms, micro corm, use of media and low tunnel production

Motivation of rural youth and women


Large scale demonstration on intensive production technologies and mechanization

Development of scientific cultivation practices and introduction of developmental schemes on mission mode


Production constraints

Technological Interventions

  • Extreame fragmentation and small size holdings
  • Non adoption of scientific cultivation practices



  • Rainfed farming and lack of irrigation facilities



  • Poor fertility and organic matter resulting in increased percentage of non productive corms
  • Inadequate seed rate (one corm/hill) and long planting cycles of 10 to 15 years and very poor management practices
  • Problems of corm rot and rodents resulting in very low plant population


  • Slow multiplication and growth of flower bearing productive corms


  • Very poor application of manures and fertilizers and increasing pollution


  • No mechanization, labour intensive harvesting and poor harvest practices resulting  in low grade and poor quality
  • No mechanism for quality control, packaging, pricing and marketing
Cooperative farming & mechanization 

Large scale adoption of scientific intensive production technologies (High density, INM and IPM, Micro Irrigation and Fertigation)

Rain water harvesting and moisture conservation, development of irrigation schemes and application of drip and sprinkler systems

Enriching soils with recommended levels of manures and fertilizers, organic cultivation

(FYM 25 t/ha., NPK 90:100:120 kg/ha)

Maintain adequate planting density (5-10 lakh corm/ha) and short planting cycles of five years


Integrated corm rot (soil treatment with bioagent T.viride (5g/kg) and carbendazim 0.05%)  and rodent management

Fast micro corm production and off place forced corm multiplication


Integrated nutrient management and dust pollution control through sprinklers


Mechanization required for planting, weeding, hoeing and drying


Government or cooperative control on quality standards, brand name, international standard grading, processing, efficient packaging and marketing


Although numbers of factors are responsible for low productivity, however isolation and development of high yielding clones of saffron and large scale production of quality planting material accompanied by sound intensive corm production and corm rot management practices can achieve higher production and productivity.


Saffron Breeding:

The saffron is a sterile triploid bulbous plant, with chromosome number 3x=2n=24 but relatred wild species are diploid with 2n=2x=16. It is possibly developed from the wild saffron (Crocus cartwrightianus) of Greece and has been maintained for centuries because of its stigmatic value. For bringing genetic improvement in this triploid species, it is necessary to create genetic variability through non conventional methods like mutation breeding, polyploidy, somaclonal variations etc. besides exploitation of already existing variation which have been accumulated over the period in natural populations growing since centuries in centre of origin and domestication as  in India, Iran, Spain etc.

At CITH, the work on saffron improvement resulted in some significant contribution especially in creation of new variability and development of few elite clones which can yield as high as 5-8 kgs/ha as against average productivity of 2.3kg/ha.         


Through extensive survey of local area  number of superior saffron clones / genotypes from different districts of Kashmir were collected and evaluated for fresh pistil weight, dry weight of the flowers, dry weight of pistils, perianth size, style and stigma length etc. and identified ten best clones having high saffron yield per hectare in their initial planting year which are expected to yield 5-8 kg/ha in their 5th year of plantation. All these clones are now under multiplication programme.

For inducing variability, the corms were also irradiated with gamma rays (0.5 Kr to 4.0 Kr.) producing good amount of variability for flowering, variation in corm size, floral parts stigma and style length etc. Some promising mutants are expected from these irradiated population and these shall be multiplied for large scale adaption.

A successful protocol for micro corm production and development of stigma like structures from different explants of saffron is standardized but work on increasing the size of corms and inducing crocin content in SLS are in progress.

Saffron improvement: Brief achievements



Exploitation of natural genetic variability through clonal selection (NATP and HTM)  Through extensive survey of local area as many as 55 superior saffron clones / genotypes from different districts of Kashmir were collected. Out of these thirty two clones were evaluated with respect to fresh pistil weight, dry weight of the flowers, dry weight of pistils, perianth  size, total style and + stigma length from  2004-2009 and identified ten best clones namely   CITH-S-125 (4.1), CITH-S-23 (4.0), CITH-S-124 (3.9), CITH-S-122 (3.8), CITH-S-12 (3.8), CITH-S-121 (3.7), CITH-S-107 (3.7), CITH-S-120 (3.5), CITH-S-104 (3.4) and CITH-S-104 (3.4)     with high  saffron yield kg/ hectare in their initial planting years. These clones are expected to yield 5-8 kg/ha by 5th year after plantation. All these clones are now under multiplication.
Mutation breeding for creation of variability in saffron (CITH) For inducing variability the corms were irradiated with gamma rays (0.5 Kr to 4.0 Kr.) and observation on foliage and flower characters indicated good amount of variability for flowering, flower size, stigma and style length, foliage, corm size etc. The project is still under progress and material is being multiplied treatment wise.
Clonal multiplication of saffron under in-vitro conditions (HTM) Different clones  of saffron were used to study the effect of different hormone concentrations on corm multiplication. Different media combinations were tried to optimize the best combination for fast and efficient proliferation and multiplications of corms. Meristematic eyes of mature saffron corms were used as initial explants for corm multiplication. The best combination for multiplication was MS + BAP (2mg/l) + NAA (0.5 mg/l.) which yielded corm-lets of the size 2-3 g which could easily germinate under In-vitro conditions within eight months as against 22 months under field conditions. However, work for further increasing the size of corm is under progress.
In-vitro development of stigma like structures (SLS) from different explants of saffron (HTM) Half ovary as an explant proliferated into stigma like structures which resemble stigmas. Biochemical studies for accumulation of pigments like safranal, crocin, pico crocin indicated a good amount of safranal but high pico crocin while crocin content was very negligible. The efforts are in progress to induce pigment crocin, in In-vitro SLS.



Corm multiplication and saffron production technologies:


In saffron, the natural corm multiplication and regeneration rate is very slow. For producing corm of more than 8-10g size which can bear flowers on planting require 4 to 5 years. For rejuvenation and replanting of ten percent of area annually which is approximately 300 ha and for expansion of another100 ha new additional area every year the planting material required @ 40-50 q/ha would be around 1600-2000 tonnes and number of corms shall work out to be about 200 million which is a huge number. For production 1600-2000 tonnes of large size quality corms, atleast 100 ha land is required every year besides involving huge investment and labour. The alternate economical method would be micropropagation. This technique can produce millions of disease free corms at a shortest possible time.  Plastic/Polytunnels made in the month of December by using iron stand cover with polythene, removed in first week of March revealed that corms planted inside the polythene tunnel attend more biomass then control pots planted outside the tunnel. This technique increased corm yield due to higher corm multiplication ratio.

For increasing production and productivity of both corms, cormels and flowers, numbers of field studies on nutrition, plant geometry, media, bioagents, growth regulators etc. were undertaken and few cost-effective corm production technologies including corm rot management have been standardized. Planting of large size corms (12- 15g) @ five lakh corms/ha at 20x10cm and provided 90:100:120 kg NPK/ha and 25t/ha well rotten organic manure found very promising resulting in increased growth of leaves, stigma, corms and cormels. Study of different media on corm production of saffron (sand, ash, vermicompost, dalweed and saw dust) also indicated that combination of Soil + FYM + saw dust + poultry manure in the ratio of 1:1:1:1 and spacing of 20 x 10cm is the best, which produced highest number of corms and flowers per plant, and improved flower size, pistil length and vegetative traits.

For successful cultivation, management of corm rot of saffron is a vital component. The several studies conducted at CITH and SAU’s provided an effective integrated management involving corm and soil treatment with bioagent T.viride (5g/kg) and carbendazim (0.05%). This not only reduced corm rot by more than 60% but it also increased plant stand, percent flowering, corm and cormel number and saffron yield when planted on raised bed conditions.

Saffron production: Brief achievements

Projects Technologies developed/achievements
Effect of different fertilizers, manures and spacing on corm production of saffron. Large corms (8- 12g) planted  @ five lakh corms/ha at 20x10cm and provided 90:100:120 kg NPK/ha and 25t/ha well rotten organic manure found very promising which resulted in increased growth of leaves, stigma, corms and cormels, and Saffron yield (6-8 kg/ha).
Effect of different media on corm production of saffron (sand, ash, vermicompost, dalweed and saw dust) Combination of Soil + FYM + saw dust + poultry manure in the ratio of 1:1:1:1 and spacing of 20 x 10cm was the best, which produced highest number of flowers per plant, and improved flower size, pistil length and vegetative parameters.
Integrated management of corm rot of saffron Technology for corm rot management in saffron has been developed and recommended. The integrated management included corm and soil treatment with bioagent T.viride (5g/kg) and carbendazim (0.05%). The treatment reduced corm rot by more than 60%, increased plant stand, percent flowering and saffron yield.
Flowering and yield of saffron as influenced by corm size Large size corm (12-15)g planted  @ five lakh corms/ha were found  very promising and recorded highest percentage of flowers, large stigma and highest corm production, of 153.0 q/ha under biannual planting cycle with a distinct yield advantage of 63.5 % over control and producing 57.3 % flower bearing corms. 
Effect of GA, NAA, Colchicine, BA, CCC on saffron corm production and variability Experiment is in progress and the results are very encouraging especially on flower, corm and foliage traits.
Intercropping studies on saffron with almonds Intercropping studies on saffron with almonds has been laid out and experiment is under progress. 
Quality corm production under (HTM) Following recommendation package of practices, quality corms are being produced (four lakh) for distribution and demonstration among saffron growers.


Future thrust areas of research for improving production and productivity of saffron:

For making breakthrough and improving production and productivity the following researchable issues in saffron improvement, production, protection, PHM and HRD are very important and need due consideration.


Saffron Improvement 
  • Exploitation existing clonal variability and introduction of elite material.
  • Cytological studies of saffron and development of trisomic lines in saffron.
  • Induction of genetic variability through mutation breeding, somaclonal variation and polyploidy.
  • Development of improved methods for high quality corm multiplication e.g. off-place multiplication of corm, micro-propagation etc.
  • Development of breeding lines through production of Double Haploids, which can be used as mapping population for further breeding programme.
  • Development of technologies for in-vitro production of saffron stigma.
  • Use of molecular makers for Association Mapping of important genetic traits in saffron.
  • Micro-propagation of elite clones and gene transfer techniques.
Saffron Production
  • Standardization of production technologies like nutrient and irrigation management, plant geometry and seed rate planting cycle, intercropping etc. for increasing productivity.
  • Organic and protected cultivation.
  • Mechanization of farm operations and harvesting.
Saffron Protection
  • Integrated management of corm rot, rodents and other insect pest diseases like Tylenchus nematode, viral disease like TRV, CRV, ring spot etc.
  • Development of disease diagnostics and viral indexing of mother corms.
Post Harvest Management and Marketing
  • Value addition of saffron through development of efficient post harvest technologies (separation of pistils , mechanical drying, packaging and storage etc).
  • Quality control, brand name and co-operative collection and marketing.
Human Recourse Development
  • Training and exposure of scientific personnel in latest advancements in the field of saffron improvement and production under HRD
Transfer of Technologies
  • Large scale transfer and demonstration of technologies to farmers through mission mode approach



Comparative survey of saffron production in Kashmir (India), Khorasan (Iran), Spain and CITH


A. Condition or practices





CITH Intensive Prod. Technology

No. of corms/hill sown

Single corm


Single large corm

Single large corm

No. of corms/m2 sown





Interspacing (cm)





Sowing depth (cm)





Corm planting rate (t/ha)

3 to 5




Maximum age of the field (years)

5 to 20 years




Irrigation (No. of times)

Rain, no irrigation

At least 5




Very poor application of manures and fertilizers

FYM 20-80t/ha

Fertilizers as recommended

Organic manures 20-30t/ha and fertilizers NPK 50:100:120 kg/ha

FYM 25 t/ha., NPK 90:100:120 kg/ha


Hand hoeing and weeding

Manual hoeing and weeding

Manual and use herbicides

Manual and use herbicides

Phytosanitary protection

Very poor




Dry stigma yield(kg/ha)

Almost negligible




Second year (kg/ha)





Third year (kg/ha)





Third to Eighth year (kg/ha)





Moisture content at harvesting (%)





Number of flowers/kg





Mean  stigma yield (kg/ha)





Pests and diseases

Fusarium, mice and other rodents

Fusarium, mice and other rodents

Fusarium, Rhizoctonia, mice and rabits

Fusarium, Rhizoctonia, mice and rabits

Duration of flowering

20th Oct. – 10th Nov.

20th Oct. – 10th Nov.

15th-25th Oct.

11th -30th oct.

Interval of flower picking

Once in 3-4 days



Alternate day

Method of drying

Direct sunlight

Shade, oven

Sun drying, electric dryers, sieve drying

Shade drying, oven drying and electric drier

Time of flower picking in the day





Flower transportation

In baskets

In bags

In baskets

In baskets

Marketable part


Stigma, fresh flower



and pistil

Final moisture content (%)

Approx. 8-10

Approx. 7-8

Approx. 8-10

8-10 %

Quality control

No control by government or associations

Controlled by government and associations

Controlled by government, producer organizations and  co-operatives

Soil utilization after saffron

Vacant or some crops like mustard, pulses grown

Wheat, barley

Intercropping with  almond



For increasing production and productivity following recommendations need to be adopted:

?  Use graded saffron corms of 10-12 gm size

?  Treat corms for corm rot with T. viride/ carbendizim.

?  Plant corms at Spacing 20 x 5-10 cm

?  Planting density: 10 lakh corm/ha.

?  Provide irrigation:  drip or sprinkler (4 irrigation)

?  Plant corms on raised beds

?  Follow planting cycle of 5-6 years

?  Apply manures and fertilizers @ FYM 25 t/ha., NPK 90:100:120 kg/ha

?  Follow Integrated Weed management.



Central Institute of Temperate Horticulture

(Indian Council of Agricultural Research)

Old Air Field, P.O.: Rangreth, Srinagar – 190007 J & K, India




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