Mohammad Habib Mir looked pensive as he walked towards his saffron field on a cold day in November. Fifty years ago, the 67-year-old farmer was accustomed to collecting between 20 and 40 kilograms of saffron from each kanal—around 4,500 square feet—in large baskets made from willow twigs. Nowadays, he is lucky if he manages to collect around two kilograms, and he only needs a small bag.
Mir, who was brought up in Pampore, a town around 13 kilometres from Srinagar, took up saffron cultivation full-time to support his family after his father’s death in 1967. “My grandfather used to tell me, the deeper you dig, the land will become more viable for sowing, and you will produce more,” he said, referring to the labour-intensive nature of saffron production.
Since farmers have to extract the stigma of saffron flowers, and each flower only has three stigmas, it takes anywhere between 100,000 and 200,000 flowers to produce a kilogram of dried saffron.