Afghan Saffron
14/05/2022

How Afghanistan Became a Saffron Producer?

Afghan saffron is known as a substitute agriculture product for opium. Afghanistan is mainly known for the production of opium and is the main opium supplier in the world. In recent decades, Afghan farmers have shown interest in the cultivation of saffron, due to following reasons which will be discussed.

Although the production of Afghan saffron is not free from challenges, many have turned their lands into saffron farms. In this blog, we discuss the history of growing Afghan saffron and saffron processing development in Afghanistan.

Brief history of Afghan saffron production:

The father of Afghan saffron

Many years ago, Afghanistan was a part of the Great Khorasan – Iran. More than 90 years ago, some Herat farmers started to grow saffron in small scale. Some years later, around 1991, some refugees, who had worked in Iranian saffron fields, returned to Afghanistan and brought some saffron corms. Therefore, new saffron fields appeared in Pashtun Zarghun and Ghourian regions of Herat province.

Their experience and knowledge improved the Afghan cultivation process which helped farmers to achieve better results in terms of saffron quality and quantity. Local farmers of Pashtun Zarghun district achieved great production in terms of quality and quantity over time.

 

 

As a result, Identifying the potential opportunities for further development, government decision-makers decided to encourage Afghan people to cultivate saffron instead of opium for its high economic profitability, legal business procedures, and more reputable business image. Therefore, the ministry of agriculture decided to distribute saffron corms to farmers in other provinces, such as Mazar-i-Sharif, Baghlan, Kabul, Wardak, Bamyan, Logar, in 2002. In addition to that, saffron fields in Afghanistan have expanded in the last decade due to large import of saffron corms, legally or illegally, from Iran. As a result, the illegal export of saffron corms to Afghanistan has greatly benefited Afghanistan Agriculture system.

Afghan Women saffron workforce

Why saffron production is cost-effective in Afghanistan?

Afghan people beholden their farm development to the factors below, which has resulted in relative expansion of saffron production in this region. The key facts for why saffron cultivation is cost-effective in Afghanistan include:

Low water requirement: So far, Afghanistan had sufficient rain and required water resources for saffron growth. However, they can afford two to three irrigation. Saffron requires no more than 3-4 irrigation times to grow.

Availability of sufficient human resource: Growing saffron, from cultivation to harvest, is a labor-intensive work. The availability of sufficient, low-cost human resource in Afghanistan, especially women, has made it possible to produce saffron much easier and affordable for the farmers.

Afghan Women saffron workforce
Afghan Women saffron workforce

Simple machinery: It is possible to do all activities manually in saffron fields. On the other hand, cultivation of other products requires expensive machinery, which Afghan farmers may not be able to afford.  

Good soil and climate condition: The proximity of Afghan saffron producing region and climate similarities with Khorasan province in Iran has led into production of good-quality Afghan saffron, only if the cultivation and irrigation of saffron has been performed properly.

Seven years of production: Once the saffron corms (saffron bulb) are planted in the fields, the farmers can harvest saffron for seven years.

Safe international business: Cultivation, distribution, and sales of saffron is much safer than opium products. This business is much safer in terms of income, and legal procedures compared to other high-profit activities in Afghanistan.

Saffron planting methods in Afghanistan:

Afghan saffron planting

Afghan farmers plant saffron using different methods, as explained below:

Traditional planting method:

In the traditional planting method, the farmers plant saffron corm in pits, each pit 25 cm away from another. The farmers should plant 3-8 corms in every pit, at the depth of 20-25 cm. Please note that the pit radius should be 20-25 cm.

Plot or ridge planting method:

Using the ridge planting method, the ridge is 30 cm high and each ridge is 75 cm away from another if the plots are prepared by a tractor. In case the plots are prepared manually, the ridges are usually 50 cm away from one another. Normally 1000 kg to 2600 kg corm is planted per Jerib.

Plot planting method protects the corm against high temperature, pests and diseases. Moreover, in plot planting, irrigation is easier and more effective than traditional method. The corm will not be soaked in water, which eliminates the corm decomposition.

Flat-Bed Planting method:

In flat-bed planting, Afghan farmers plant corms 15 cm deep with 5-10 cm distance from the other corm. The distances between corms should be 20- 40 cm. This way, about 1000kg corm is planted per jerib.

Saffron industry development in Afghanistan

Afghan saffron production methods has been improved over the last decade. With the help of international support of European and American companies or associations, such as USAID agency, saffron farmers and businesses received grants to improve their knowledge and equipment in farming, quality controls, establishing laboratories, improvement of packaging, facilitating marketing and the export of Afghan saffron. Their governments also supported Afghan saffron businesses by applying low (near to zero) import preferential tariffs.

USAID help to Afghan saffron industries

The production of saffron in Afghanistan has raised for its economic benefits. As production of saffron in large scales requires great investments and infrastructure, Afghanistan could not produce large saffron quantity, in comparison to its neighbor country, Iran.

The scarcity of great infrastructure and the great interest of local people in production traditional products, such as opium, decreased Afghan saffron overall quantity. Afghan saffron has been improved in the last decade, however, the final product and farmer expertise is not comparable to their main competitor, Iran.

Pros and cons of Iran business cooperation with Afghan companies:

According to Afghanistan agriculture organization, this country produces 20 tons at the very best. However, Afghanistan export volume was around 40 tons last year, according to Afghanistan chamber of commerce reports. The following lines explains reasons for this difference between produced and exported Afghan saffron:

This usually happens due to some commercial restrictions in Iran. Iranian saffron exporters take advantages of Afghanistan ease of doing business as a re-exporting destination to maintain their international market share and customer satisfaction. Iran international sanctions and high import tariffs, especially by India, has restricted the easy export of saffron directly from Iran. International companies should be aware of the fact that top-quality Afghan saffron, exported from Afghanistan, is most probably Iranian saffron which is re-packaged in Afghanistan.

 A number of factors eliminates the direct exports of Iranian saffron, which will be addressed in “What are the threats to Iranian Saffron international rank?” This blog reviews the challenges and tries to suggest potential solutions.

Further researches indicate that Afghan saffron stigmas are weaker and contain less coloring power compared to Iranian saffron. Therefore, Afghan farmers are not able to produce high-quality, large stigmas such as Super-Negin and First-Grade Poushal saffron. As a result, Some Afghan saffron traders purchase and import Iranian saffron to Afghanistan to re-export it with Afghan brands, which is a threat to Iranian saffron branding attempts.

It has been claimed that Iranian saffron is superior to productions of other countries, such as Afghanistan, Spain, India, etc. We gathered the reasons to support this claim in another blog post titled Why Iranian Saffron is the Best of All”.

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