role of women in saffron supply chain

Why Saffron Supply Chain Stops Working Without Women?

Women play an important role in the value chain stages of many agricultural products. For example, they are an inseparable part of tea production in India, Sri Lanka, and parts of Africa, coffee production in Colombia, Ethiopia, and Costa Rica, and rice production in Thailand, Vietnam, India, and many parts of Africa. However, their contribution to saffron production and value chain, from saffron corm cultivation to packaging and export, is so significant that the whole industry will be paralyzed without them. Saffron is a valuable product and 90% of its production procedure is done by hand and without any machine intervention.

Each stage of saffron production requires special accuracy and delicate work, features that can only be found in women’s characteristics. Considering the significance of this subject, we analyzed women’s roles, step by step from different perspectives. We hope this post will attract the attention of saffron industry players to empower women through saffron value chain.

What stages of saffron production are women involved in?

Saffron is a valuable plant that flourishes once a year. Totally, the saffron flower processing in each saffron producing region in Iran takes 15-20 days. During this time, farmers and workers are busy harvesting, stripping, and drying saffron.

Therefore, depending on climate conditions in Iran, this process takes place in a 45–50-day period.

Women are present in all stages of saffron supply chain which involves:

  1. Saffron corm cultivation
  2. Irrigation and land maintenance
  3. Saffron flowering (once a year, in early October to early November)
  4. Saffron stripping (immediately after harvest of saffron)
  5. Drying saffron (immediately after saffron stripping)
  6. Saffron maintenance and sales during the year
  7. Saffron packaging and sorting
  8. Local and international saffron sales

As below, we explained women role in each stage of saffron supply chain in detail:

1- Saffron corm cultivation

saffron cultivation by women

Both traditional and modern saffron cultivation methods require intense physical work, in latter method semi-mechanized or full-mechanized cultivation is performed. 80% of the physical work in this step, from land preparation to corm cultivation, is done by men. Yet, women may help cultivate corms under the ground.

2- Irrigation and land maintenance

saffron Irrigation and land maintenance

Just like the saffron corm cultivation stage, irrigation and land maintenance is also a male job and requires physical strength. In different periods of the year, irrigation and land maintenance are done by men, and there is little need for women’s presence at this stage. 

3-Saffron flowering

saffron-harvest by men and women

Once a saffron land starts flowering, it gradually needs more or less workforce to pick flowers out of the ground. During this stage, women play an important role along with other men. Rural and immigrant women come to saffron land with their children, early in the morning and even before dawn, and pick saffron flowers for 3-8 hours per day, depending on the flowering rate on that day. They may have to work for 11 hours in the peak period of saffron flowering.

saffron harvest by women

Depending on individual physical strength and their speed, a woman can harvest 2 to 5 kg of saffron flower, while a man can perform 1.5 or even 2 times more because of his physical strength.

women role in saffron flowering

As for wage rates, it is worth mentioning that different financial arrangements are agreed upon in different regions. In some regions, they receive a daily wage, while in other regions the wage is estimated per kilo of harvested saffron flower. However, family members of the farmers are not paid at all, because they work for the family income, so they will benefit from the sales of the final product.

4- Saffron stripping:

saffron stripping by women

From the previous stage on, the role of women in the process of saffron production becomes highlighted. The flowers that are harvested in the morning should be transferred to some clean area such as flower-processing centers or their homes. Rural women, who have been busy harvesting saffron from morning to noon, continue to separate stigmas from its flower if there is any energy left for them.

The larger the saffron land is, the higher yield it will have. In such situations, as the stripping process is a time-consuming and tiring task, the farmers sell saffron flowers to saffron-flower dealers, who have great networks of saffron stripper workers in nearby cities.

Normally, in the peak period of saffron flowering, the wage of stripping saffron increases by 50% because of scarcity of workers.

saffron sorting

99 percent of the saffron stripping process is done manually by women. This process requires special delicate work and sanitary conditions which can only be done by women. Yet, men may help their wives to ease the process.

To get a gist of the task hardship, you need to know that only 2-3 kg of saffron flower can be separated from its stigmas after 7 to 8 hours of labor. As a result of drying stigmas, only 25 to 30 grams of dried saffron stigma (final product) is yielded, by one person. This shows how important, yet frustrating, this stage of saffron production is!

5- Drying saffron

saffron drying

In the past, farmers (mainly the household women) dried saffron flowers on clean cotton fabrics exposed to open air. However, in recent years, after the invention of industrial and semi-industrial drying machines, expert operators become responsible for this task. Using these machines, the dryingstage is done in a more sanitary condition and at a quicker pace.

It is worth noting that with the help of this drying machine, the drying time is shortened and the humidity and temperature of the ambient environment are controlled. Consequently, the product quality is improved by 30 to 40 percent.

6- Saffron maintenance and sales during the year

In the past and even today, rural farmer women have an important role in managing the products and assets of a farmer’s family. If the farmer does not sell the saffron flower to dealers, then the produced saffron will be maintained by the farmer himself. Farmers’ wives and household women are mainly responsible for maintaining this valuable product. In some cases, women are also responsible for the sales of the product. Sometimes, they get a share of sales income or even the product itself for family savings

7- Saffron packaging and sorting

saffron sorting by women

So far, the whole process of the saffron production chain is done by farmers, local farmers, saffron middlemen, and saffron flower processors to produce dried saffron stigmas. In this stage, which is a main part of product commercialization and local and international sales, the important role of women in factories and production units is highlighted again. The sorting of the products, removing foreign material such as hair, stones, and other extra materials, weighing and packaging of the saffron in factory production line is done by women.

Before that, the bulk saffron was tested in terms of quality by well-educated lab workforces. In Iranian factories, this position is mostly occupied by women food-industry experts to analyze the products’ chemical, microbial, and other quality parameters.

8- Local and international saffron sales

Up to now, the highlighted role of women in all stages of saffron production and value chain is explained. Yet, we should not ignore and underestimate the role of active men in this industry. Iran produces more than 90% of the saffron in the world, as the largest saffron producer, and several well-reputed saffron processing/packaging units and factories are working in this industry. Since women have an important role in saffron chain sustainability, by working in the production, process, sorting, and packaging of this product along with men, we should not ignore their potential in product sales departments and local and international sales network, as a whole.  

Final Word

We, SunLand Saffron as an active player in saffron supply chain, considers women empowerment, especially in rural environments, as our social responsibility. As a saffron producer in Taybad, Khorasan we support various programs in this regard. As explained above, the saffron supply chain will not work properly without women involvement in different stages of saffron value and supply chain. Therefore, we believe, women empowerment should be taken seriously in this industry, and every supportive governmental and international activity in this regard is welcomed.

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  • We are a group of volunteers and starting a new scheme in our community. Your website offered us with valuable info to work on. You have done an impressive job and our entire community will be thankful to you.

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