Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus, commonly known as the "saffron crocus". The vivid crimson stigmas and styles, called threads, are collected and dried to be used mainly as a seasoning and colouring agent in food.
For saffron cultivation, we need an explicit climatological summer and winter with temperatures ranging from no more than 35oC or 40oC in summer to about –15 oC or –20 oC in winter. That's why saffron can be cultivated in dry, moderate and continental climate types but not in tropical or polar climate types.
History of Saffron:
Human cultivation and use of saffron spans more than 3,500 years and extends across cultures, continents, and civilizations. Saffron, a spice derived from the dried stigmas of the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus), has through history remained among the world's most costly substances. With its bitter taste, hay-like fragrance, and slight metallic notes, the apocarotenoid-rich saffron has been used as a seasoning, fragrance, dye, and medicine.
The saffron crocus is a genetically monomorphic clone native to Southwest Asia; it was probably first cultivated in or near Persia. The wild precursor of domesticated saffron crocus was likely Crocus cartwrightianus, which originated in Crete and Greece.
Despite the historical record of saffron in our beloved country, cultivation of saffron began in 1991 in Ghoryan district of Herat when Afghan refugees returned from Iran; but support and encouragements for promotion of saffron was officially and experimentally started in 1998.
The history of saffron existence in our country according to the evidence of artifacts is about 2,000 years, although some believe that Afghanistan is considered to be one of the world's major sources of saffron.
The Economic Value of Saffron Industry in Afghanistan and World
About 300 metric tons of stigmas and styles, called threads, of saffron and dried powder are produced every year, of which 10,600 metric tons produced in Afghanistan; though based on soil and condition Afghanistan has the capacity of producing over 100 tons.
The total value of its production in the world economy is estimated at 8 billion USD (BBC October 2017) of which Afghanistan’s share is currently around 12 million USD and can increase to 300 million USD.
The cost for production of one kilo of saffron in Iran is 800 USD and 500 USD in Afghanistan; using of new practices could reduce the cost to 330-400 USD per kilo.
Saffron is one of the most job creative agricultural plant, with an average of 270 people working in planting and harvesting affairs every year.
As saffron usage is expanding considerably worldwide, economists predict that the global market for this product will also be dramatic and saffron will soon become a strategic industrial product in the global market place.
Comparison of the price of saffron over the last 16 years has shown that the price of this product is on the rise.
The price of saffron in 2000 was about 200 USD per kilo where as in 2017 it was about 1600-1800 USD.
The Importance of Saffron for Afghanistan
1. Saffron needs no water for irrigation in the summer, easy transportation due to its low weight.
2. Saffron has the possibility that 80 percent of its work and harvest is done by women and family members.
3. Saffron creates jobs for villages in the unemployment season (October & November).
4. Saffron has resistance against diseases and insects; global market demands for the product is among other benefits of saffron.
5. Unlike other plants, saffron does not need field preparation for cultivation each year.
6. Afghanistan is part of the world’s dry region.
Saffron and job creation
Saffron is one of the most job creative agricultural product. The average work required per year for the three stages of production is estimated 270 days.
According to the reports, about 30 countries around the world cultivate saffron. Last year Iran with production of 336 tons of saffron got the first rank, India with 22 tons in the second rank, and Afghanistan with 10 tons in the third rank, Greece with 7.2 tons in the fourth rank, Morocco with 2.6 tons in the fifth rank, Spain with 2.3 tons in sixth rank, Italy and China with one tons were ranked consecutively. (BBC October 2017.
Current Status of Saffron in Afghanistan
Currently, there are two saffron quality control laboratories, distribution of more than hundreds of saffron dryers’ machines, more than 43 private companies operating in the production, processing and marketing sectors of saffron, the establishment of more than 24 associations of male and female saffron workers, the interest of international companies in the United States and Europe for buying of Afghan saffron and support of international community are among the golden opportunities that if used, will represent a promising prospect for the development of saffron in Afghanistan.