Saffron flowers bloom in sandalwood yards of Kanthalloor

Director of ICAR – ATARI Bengaluru Dr V Venkatasubramanian (right) and KVK scientist Dr Sudhakar Soundarajan (left), and other experts visit a farm during the saffron harvesting at Kanthalloor. Photo: Special Arrangement

Idukki: Known as mini Kashmir for its cold and congenial climate, the Kanthalloor and Maryoor regions of Idukki are in an attempt to place themselves on the saffron cultivation map. The open cultivation of saffron, the pricey herb that is used in food, textile and cosmetics sectors, is mainly found in Iran, Iraq and Kashmir in India. The pilot project to replicate the same in Idukki, initiated by Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK), Santhanpara which functions under the Council for Agriculture Research Agricultural Technology Application Research Institute (ICAR-ATARI), has yielded good results.

The harvesting of saffron, which originates as the stigma of an attractive violate flower with a yellow anther, has begun in two farms at Perumala in Kanthaloor and Vandanmedu near Kumily. Scientists at KVK who had been experimenting with Saffron cultivation for the past two years by planting 300 kg of croms (seeds) of saffron which they brought from Srinagar said that unlike in the previous year when heavy rains damaged the crop, this year, all the plants that sprouted have flowered. The harvesting began on Tuesday, they added.

Last year, trials were conducted in Perumala, Vandanmedu, Senapathy, Nachivayal, Pazhathoottam, Santhanpara, Nachivayal, Vagamon and Udumbanchola in the district. According to scientists of KVK, they got the best results from Perumala and Vandanmedu farms. Their next focus would be to go for another round of planting in 15 to 20 places in the Kanthanloor region. 

Saffron grown in poly houses and indoors is common elsewhere, however, Kanthalloor has turned out to be a chosen location for open farming. The winter season November-December would be the ideal time of the year for the violate saffron flowers to bloom. “I took a fancy for planting the saffron corms in my 25-cent yard and became a part of the trial. Each corm was planted on the soil beds at a distance of half a foot and beds were set at a distance of one-and-a-half feet. The labour charges were met by me,” said farmer Ramamoorthy B of Perumala.

He has been doing strawberry, blackberry, and vegetable farming on his own and leased land in Kanthaloor for several years now. “The saffron plant takes 20 to 50 days to bloom and we planted it in Kanthallor by the end of September. The most suitable climatic condition for saffron is 20 to 25 degrees Celsius during the day and 5 at night. Other than the climate, if there is a commercial-scale production during the winter season, the saffron farms in Kanthaloor are going to draw a huge number of tourists,” Dr Sudhakar Soundarajan, KVK scientist who specialises in plant protection, told Onmanorama.

The saffron flowers at the farm in Perumala near Kanthalloor where cultivation is done on a pilot basis. Photo: Special Arrangement

After trials in 15-20 farms in the region, the goal is to produce saffron in commercial quantities. According to him, an acre of saffron is expected to give 1.5-2 kg of the produce, and with Rs 300 to Rs 420 for a gram of saffron, in the three-month saffron season, a farmer is expected to get more than Rs 6 lakh from an acre. Out of this, 60 per cent will be profit, he said. The farmers can directly sell the produce or can sell it digitally by entering into a deal with the KVK which would give technical support to them for the online sales, he added.

Scientists at KVK said that from one corm of saffron there will be five separate plants would sprout and the three stigmas found in a single flower are the actual produce. The anther and the petal are also used as products with medicinal value. They said the medicinal value of saffron makes it the most sought-after produce and speaking to the farmers in Srinagar they have learnt that people use it in water, coffee, and milk for stomach ailments and for improving complexion.

Croms (seeds) of saffron kept at KVK in Santhanpara. Photo: Special Arrangement

“At present, the project is a direct association of KVK with the farmers. However, in the future assistance of Kerala Agricultural University and the civic bodies will be sought for doing saffron farming on a large scale,” a scientist added.

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