Two Gujarati friends grow saffron in the air; sell at Rs9 lakh per kg

College friends Subhash Kanetiya and Ashish Bavaliya began experimenting with aeroponics saffron farming in Hamapur village in 2022. They first multiplied bulbs to ensure good-quality mother plants and now also sell saffron besides training rural youth 

Rashmi Pratap
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Subhash Kanetiya (left) and Ashish Bavaliya at their aeroponics saffron farming unit at Hamapur

Subhash Kanetiya (left) and Ashish Bavaliya at their aeroponics saffron farming unit at Hamapur

When Subhash Kanetiya and Ashish Bavaliya were pursuing BTech from Navsari Agriculture University in Gujarat, they immediately struck a bond. Both belonged to agrarian families and their villages were not too far from each other. Besides, they shared a passion for using technology in farming to improve farmer incomes.

Subhash, a year junior to Ashish, passed out of college in 2022. “I found a research paper on indoor, temperature-controlled farming and was keen to try it with saffron,” says Subhash, who belongs to the Bhadravadi village in Botad taluka of Bhavnagar district.

His friend and college senior Ashish found the idea interesting and the duo started researching more about indoor saffron farming. They decided to set up a trial facility in Ashish’s Hamapur village in the Amreli district. A building on Ashish’s farm lying vacant became the experiment ground.

saffron aeroponics
Saffron in full bloom at Ashish and Subhash's aeroponics farming facility. Pic: Subhash Kanetiya

“We put up a chiller fridge of 3 feet by 10 feet (area of 30 sq ft) and put wooden trays with holes on angle racks. We ordered 10 kg of saffron seeds (bulbs or corms) from Kashmir. Being novices, we ended up paying Rs 10,000 (Rs 1000 per kg) for the seeds which otherwise cost around Rs700 to Rs800 per kg,” says Ashish.

How aeroponics saffron cultivation is done

Ashish and Subhash used aeroponics which does not require soil. The main requirements for aeroponics saffron farming are a cold storage room, a humidifier to add nutrient-rich moisture to the air, and wooden trays with holes. Aeroponics involves suspending the plants in the air and maintaining a moist environment for them. 

“We don’t use any media. The humidifier generates a nutrient-dense mist in which plant roots grow, suspended from holes in trays. Plants receive nutrients from air and the spray,” explains Subhash. 

Throughout the process, from planting to harvesting, factors like light, water, and temperature are carefully controlled in aeroponics. The initial investment in air conditioning, humidifier and wooden trays for a set up in 10 feet X 15 feet space is around Rs 3 lakh to Rs 4 lakh.

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“Once we put the bulbs, they start sprouting in 15-20 days. The optimized temperature for saffron flowering is between 17 and 25 degrees Celsius. Flowering starts in 50 days from day one and then we have to start harvesting,” Subhash says.

Saffron threads sold at Rs900 per gram by Ashish and Subhash. Pic: Subhash Kanetiya

Ashish adds that saffron flowering continues till about 90 days from the start with bigger-sized flowers blooming towards the end. 

Using aeroponics, farmers can grow four crops in a year. 

The large red stigmas of saffron flowers are removed and dried, turning into saffron threads. It is the world’s costliest spice due to the time-consuming and laborious process involved in traditional soil farming. 

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Why indoor saffron farming is gaining popularity

Against four crops in indoor farming, the peak flowering season in Kashmir (the world’s second-largest saffron producer after Iran) lasts less than ten days, starting late October. Kashmiri saffron is known for its high quality, and it was granted a Geographical Indication (GI) tag in 2020 to protect its unique status.

However, due to climate change and other factors, saffron production in Kashmir dropped from eight tonnes in 2010-11 to 2.6 tonnes in 2023-24, a huge 67.5 percent decline, according to the Union Ministry of Agriculture. 

This, however, creates good opportunities for farm entrepreneurs to start saffron cultivation using aeroponics and hydroponics (where water is the growth media). 

The global saffron market was valued at 1.5 billion dollars in 2024 and is expected to reach 2.6 billion dollars by 2033, as per research from Custom Market Insights.

set up
Aeroponics gives consistent quality saffron with good colour and potency. Pic: Subhash Kanetiya

The trial and success

Subhash says their trial was successful and they used the resulting saffron bulbs for further multiplication. 

The Saffron plant is non-fertile and the propagation of the species is done through daughter corms from the parent. “Each seed yielded three to four seeds. We converted them into mother plants instead of selling saffron in the early days,” Subhash says.

The duo then expanded the cultivation to 216 sq ft from 30 sq ft to multiply seeds further. The cost of electricity in this facility is Rs30,000 for one crop cycle. 

Earlier this year, Subhash and Ashish harvested the first crop of saffron for sale (instead of preparing bulbs). “From 500 kg seeds, we got 1 kg of saffron. Being high-quality, we sold the saffron for Rs900 per gm and made Rs9 lakh. We sold it to Ayurveda companies, cosmetic companies and other retail buyers,” Subhash adds.

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They continue to multiply seeds and sell them to people who take training from them. “We sell the seeds at Rs800 per kg. We provide training in indoor saffron cultivation using aeroponics and people from across Gujarat, especially rural youth, attend the sessions,” he says.

Subhash Kaneitya at the aeroponics saffron unit. 

Advantages of aeroponics saffron farming

The biggest advantage is the round-the-year cultivation of saffron in any geographical environment since it is done indoors. The crops are harvested four times a year, ensuring income throughout the year for farmers.

The controlled environment of aeroponics provides saffron with consistent aroma, colour and potency. “Being of premium quality, this saffron fetches higher market prices. It boosts the profit margins for farmers,” says Ashish.

The cost of labour also goes down since soil preparation is not required, he adds. Ashish and Subhash are now planning to expand the facility.

(Rashmi Pratap is a Mumbai-based journalist specialising in business, financial, and socio-economic reporting)

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