The same ones who own the most land, as per the 2010 census.
According to the government, India has been one of the fastest-growing markets for saffron in the world since the early 1960s. In 1980, the market was estimated to be worth only Rs1.5 billion.
“Over the years, the popularity of saffron has grown and now there are about 25 percent of the Indian population that uses it regularly,” says Aseem Shrivastava, president of the Indian saffron association. “But in this country, the majority of the saffron is imported from Africa or elsewhere. While it is true that there is some demand, this demand comes from small-scale growers who sell the flowers to big-name retail merchants. And this is where the real problem lies.”
“If India wants its saffron reputation to grow, then it has to stop importing saffron,” Shrivastava adds. “There is not much we can do about that but we are hopeful that an awareness campaign across Indian villages and schools can stop these big-name retailers from importing cheap saffron from Africa.”
Shrivastava says the government is slowly doing just that, setting up saffron awareness committees in villages and asking residents to grow their own saffron for their households at home.
“They have also given us grants to plant saffron in schools in villages with a sizeable population,” he adds. “We are already expecting strong returns from this strategy.”
So far, government officials are not encouraging saffron growers to grow their own saffron. “We have told our growers to produce saffron and then we will distribute it to retail shops and colleges,” says Aniruddh Bhagwat, director of the Indian Department of Agriculture.
He said there is little demand for saffron in the market; the prices the government charged for saffron in the past may now have fallen. Bhagwat added that many countries in Asia – not just India – had already embraced saffron and the idea of using it for food had been part of Indian cuisine for centuries.
For Shrivastava, the problem is not how much saffron farmers can produce: “The issue is how much we need to import,” he says, noting that he grows 60 acres of saffron and sells it at around Rs50 per kilogram. “So the farmers can make up the difference
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