Iran produces almost all of the world’s saffron, long the most expensive spice in the world by weight. In recent years, Afghanistan’s harvest has gained popularity and the country has become the third largest producer after Iran and India.
In 2020, for example, the Brussels-based International Taste Institute recognized Heart Province’s Afghan Saffron Company product as the best in the world.
The institute also awarded the 2021 Diamond Taste Award to another Afghan company, Kaihan Saffron Agriculture Company.
Herat province produces the vast majority of Afghanistan’s saffron; in most areas, saffron
cultivation has replaced opium.
The recently overthrown government, backed by the West, encouraged poppy growers to grow saffron instead, in an attempt to reduce narcotics production.
Unfortunately, due to high-level corruption and a lack of proper governance, the country remains the world’s largest producer of opium and heroin, supplying between 80% and 90% of world production.
Saffron is uniquely positioned to be a viable alternative in Afghanistan.
Shehzada Zeb Gul, a saffron exporter and member of the Herat Chamber of Commerce, told The Media Line: “Afghan saffron has been recognized for its best quality around the world for the past 10 years.”
“Due to the huge difference between the price of saffron and opium, most farmers [in Herat] they have abandoned the cultivation of poppies, since saffron is a more lucrative crop, ”he continued. “A kilogram of saffron sells [in Afghanistan] for at least $ 1,400- $ 1,800; meanwhile, it can be traded worldwide for up to $ 4,500.
“The price of opium is much lower than that, and the open opium trade is strictly prohibited by the Taliban,” he added.
“Saffron could be a new emerging industry in Afghanistan, but it needs a comprehensive and technical strategy, which is not yet seen in the new rulers of the country,” Gul said.
Ahmad Shujat, a former director of the Kabul Department of Agriculture, told The Media Line: “At least 22,000 families were engaged in the cultivation and production of saffron in Herat alone.”
“The contribution of women to saffron cultivation was also high, but unfortunately, the tough stance of the Taliban on female workers is severely hampering the country’s lucrative production,” she continued.
“At a time like this, when the economic structure of the country has collapsed and the common man is in dire straits, saffron production has the potential to be an engine for economic and social mobility,” Shujat said.
Saffron comes from the stigma and styles of the saffron saffron (Crocus sativus).
Each flower produces three stigmas and it can take more than 150,000 flowers to produce a single kilogram of spice.
Saffron has been used for centuries in cooking to add color and delicate flavor. It is also used in the manufacture of medicines and perfumes.
Saffron has 2,000 years of history in Afghanistan, according to the country’s National Saffron Development Program.
“Approximately 300 tons of dried saffron filament and powder are produced in the world [annually]while depending on the climate and soil conditions, Afghanistan can produce 50 to 70 tons, “according to the program. Due to its high value, Afghan saffron is also known as” red gold. “The bright purple flowers They are harvested in October and November. Most women farmers start picking the flowers early in the morning before they dry. Then they divide the petals into two parts and pull out a thread or stigma. It is a very specialized and difficult job .
Saffron is also grown in other provinces, but almost 90% of Afghan saffron is produced in Herat. Saffron cultivation and production created many jobs for women in the Pashtun Zarghun district of the province, where 80% of the people involved in the collection, refining and packaging of saffron were women.
But Mehreena Shehzadi, a Herat-based women’s rights activist and former member of the provincial women’s council, told The Media Line: “Due to the tough Taliban policy on working women, many businesswomen have fled the country.
“The women who worked in the saffron fields were helping to support their families with dignity,” he continued. “With this income, they not only educated their children, but also provided a livelihood for their families.”
“At least 20 local women entrepreneurs established small businesses in which only female workers were involved in the processing and packaging of saffron,” Shehzadi said.
“These same companies also exported saffron, the red gold of Afghanistan, to the international market, thus also obtaining foreign exchange,” he added.
“During the 20-year presence of US-led foreign forces in the country, women, in particular, had countless opportunities for higher education and business,” Shehzadi continued. “Herat [city] It has more women entrepreneurs than any other city in Afghanistan due to the cultivation of the red gold, saffron.
“Many businesswomen have fled the city of Herat since the US-led forces withdrew from Afghanistan,” he noted.
“I am concerned that these women will lose 20 years of hard work, but there is also hope that sooner or later the day will come when Afghan women can resume their business and entrepreneurial activities in the country,” Shehzadi said.
Mohammad Ismail, a resident of Pashtun Zarghun city and saffron producer and exporter, told The Media Line that “good financial performance for two years in a row inspired him to grow saffron on more land.
“But sadly, the current government is doing nothing to find a market for this valuable product,” he added.
“In June 2021, under the banner of the Afghan Ministry of Commerce and Commerce, an exhibition was held in Beijing. The exhibition provided a good opportunity to present Afghan saffron in China, ”he said. “Traditional Chinese medicines are well known throughout the world and saffron is widely used in traditional Chinese pharmaceutical manufacturing.
“China could become a big market for Afghan saffron, as the Chinese showed a lot of interest in buying Afghan saffron, but unfortunately no positive progress has been made in this regard yet,” Ismail said.
Fazal E. Afgha, a former Herat customs official, told The Media Line: “Since Afghan saffron gained popularity around the world, Iranians are trying to somehow damage the value of Afghan saffron in the global market. .
“In the past, substandard saffron was smuggled from Iran to Afghanistan for this purpose, and then mixed with Afghan saffron and exported in collusion, but timely action by the Afghan authorities greatly improved the situation,” Afgha said.