SRINAGAR, India — As climate change affects the production of prized saffron in Indian-controlled Kashmir, scientists are turning to a largely new technique for growing one of the world’s most expensive spices in the Himalayan region: indoor cultivation.
The lab results have been promising, experts say, and the method has been shared with more than a dozen traditional growers.
Agricultural scientist Nazir Ahmed Ganai said indoor cultivation helps boost saffron production, which has been affected by environmental changes in recent years.
“If the climate challenges us, we try to see how we can adapt. Going inland means we’re farming vertically,” said Ganai, who is also vice-chancellor of the region’s main agricultural university.
Kashmir’s economy is predominantly agrarian and the growing impact of climate change, warming temperatures and erratic rainfall have heightened concerns among farmers who complain they are producing less produce. The changes have also impacted the region’s thousands of glaciers, rapidly shrinking them and, in turn, hampering traditional agricultural patterns in the ecologically fragile region.
The conflicts in the region have also had an impact on production and export. For decades, a separatist movement has fought Indian rule in Kashmir, which is split between India and Pakistan and claimed by both. Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have died in the conflict.
Three years ago, saffron grower Abdul Majeed Wani opted for indoor cultivation. He said his experience has been satisfying and that the technique “has worked well for us”.
“We initially faced difficulties because of the lack of experience, but over time we learned,” said Wani.
A kilogram (2.2 pounds) of spice can cost up to $4,000, in part because it takes up to 150,000 flowers to produce that amount.
All over the world, saffron is used in products ranging from food to medicine and cosmetics. Nearly 90% of the world’s saffron is grown in Iran, but experts consider the Kashmir crop to be superior for its deep color and flavor intensity.