National Saffron Development Program


Saffron, pronounced “Zaafaran” in Dari, Pashto and Arabic, is a highly priced spice used in cooking for colour and delicate flavouring. It comes from the red stigmas of a flower, Crocus sativa, a perennial that grows from a bulb (or, more accurately, a corm). Saffron is worth US$ 1600-1800 per kilogram (post-2015 harvest season) in Herat markets where its production is well suited to conditions in western Afghanistan. Saffron is seen as an excellent potential income source for small- and medium-scale farmers. There is demand for saffron within Afghanistan, but the market elsewhere is much greater and export potential is considerable in China, India, UAE, Europe and the USA. Because the product is light and has a high value per kilogram, it can easily and economically be transported from villages to towns and by air to these destinations.

Saffron, a very high-value spice crop, with particular potential for profitable production in Afghanistan. Requiring very little water and easy to produce. Saffron other advantages such a high value is that a vast amount of labour is required in harvesting and on-farm processing. The flowers are taken from the field in the early morning as soon as they open and are transported to a farmhouse or other location where the stigmas are separated from the blossoms. It takes some 450,000 stigmas to make up a kilogram of saffron and, as a flower has only three stigmas, workers must process 150,000 blossoms to produce that amount. Stigmas are attached to the flowers by yellow filaments called styles. They, like the stamens, are worthless as spice and many merchants prefer to buy only pure saffron, requiring that the stigmas be separated from the styles, which also has to be done by hand. Finally, the saffron is dried, with careful attention to preserving quality and cleanliness. All this work makes the saffron expensive, and also means that a large number of people, especially women, can find employment in its production. Fortunately, harvesting and processing take place in late autumn and early winter, so saffron production does not have to compete for labour with many other farm activities. The plants also require irrigating but, at times when other crops have little or no need for it, so saffron does not compete with other crops for resources.

In spite of saffron’s suitability to western and north-central provinces of Afghanistan – and also just across the border in Iran, which produces most of the world’s supply – the spice is new to Afghanistan and the culture of utilizing saffron in Afghan cuisine has not been developed yet.

Saffron also has other advantages: processing and harvesting can be undertaken by family members including women, and the time of the harvest creates rural employment during the off- peak season. Additionally, saffron is not bulky to transport.


Overall Goal and Objectives of the National Saffron Development Program:

The overall goal of the National Saffron Development Program (NSDP) is to strengthen and diversify licit livelihoods for 20,000 farmers as direct beneficiaries through (a) promotion of saffron in provinces with suitable agro-ecology and, (b) development of the value chain and the export markets. 

Previous experience since many years ago proved that saffron can be one of those valuable plants.


Saffron history in Afghanistan

Based on reliable evidences saffron has 2000 years background in Afghanistan.


Important characteristics for saffron cultivation

  • Needs less water than other crops,
  • Does not need water during the summer when irrigation water is at peak demand,
  • Irrigation is required during end of fall, winter and spring with much of the moisture is supplied through rainfall and snowmelt,
  • 80% of post-harvest activities are performed by family members specially women, thus no need to hire labor from outside the household
  • Creates 250- 270 man hours of work because 90% work are done by hands.
  • Harvesting is done in the fall when the farmers do not have much else to do, therefore,  creating off-season job for the farmers
  •  Resistant against disease and insects


Economic value of saffron industry in Afghanistan and world

  • Annually, approximately 300 ton dried filament and powder of saffron produce in world , but Afghanistan production is about  3.5 ton,  whereas based on climate and soil condition Afghanistan has the capacity to produce 50-70 ton.
  • Total value of this industry is 1 billion dollar in world; but currently Afghanistan’s share is 4.5 million dollar.
  • Currently the average income from 1 hectare saffron is 8000-12000 dollar per year. (If use new practices, will reach to 18000 $ per year).in comparison to opium has more income.


National Saffron Development Program main Components

  • Increase Productivity and Production (Expansion of Geographic Coverage).
  • Standardization, Certification and Quality Assurance:
  • Promotion of Afghan Saffron at national/International Markets
  • Applied research through establishment of international institute.
  •  Capacity Building saffron Stakeholders.


  1. Increase Productivity and Production
  • An Extensive adaptation studies are to be conducted in agro-ecozones and sub-ecozones of Afghanistan to identification suitable area for saffron production in Afghanistan.
  • Preparation, production and distribution of quality corm.
  • Improve Farmer’s capacity/skill to use new methods saffron production, harvesting and process.
  • Establishment demonstration plots.
  • Encouragement and support of Seed Company to produce quality corm.
  • Providing medium term loan.
  • Decrease saffron farm age from 7 years to 5 years.


  1. Standardization, Certification and Quality Assurance:
  • Establish Standard/Modern Processing Centers, employing modern technology for cleaning, drying and packaging of saffron at the district and provincial level;  
  • Enable the Afghan saffron companies/associations and trade firms to get ISO certification
  • Support farmers/associations/marketing firms on accessing new technologies for quality production, processing and packaging of saffron.
  • Create and approve of the National Standards for Afghan saffron suitable for national and international markets.  Afghan saffron is currently not certified by a reliable source for meeting the international criteria;
  • Getting Barcode for all saffron producers.


  1. Promotion of Afghan Saffron at national/International Markets :
  • Exempt saffron from taxes (Alternative Development Product/Brand Status) for export purposes for at least for 10 years
  • The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) can play an important role through the Afghan Embassies abroad to (a) promote the Afghan saffron at exhibitions, (b) to assist the Afghan traders in networking
  • Participation in International Exhibitions
  • Employ the media to raise public awareness about nutritional and health benefits of saffron;
  • Publication pamphlets, posters etc…..


  1. Applied research through establishment of international institute.

Adaptive research by the Institute will focus on the following aspects:

  • Conduct extensive and nationwide trials on geographical, edaphic and climatic adaptation of saffron crop in agro-ecozones and sub-ecozones of Afghanistan
  • Research on marketing and development of saffron exports
  • Research on updated methods for saffron processing and packaging
  • Connection with international scientific centers related to saffron industry to exchange the experiences and new research results
  • Establish Satellite Sites under the supervision of National Saffron R&D Institute (Training, Promotion and Development of Saffron) in different provinces.
  • Technical support to seed companies to get involved in saffron corm production


  1. Capacity Building saffron Stakeholders
  • Lend support to those who are involved in saffron production, processing and packaging such as the Associations, Cooperatives, Societies and honor those academics and researchers who are contributing to our knowledge of saffron through scholarly papers
  • Providing practical short and long term training for male/female who have been involved in processing and production of saffron by internal/external trainer.
  • Facilitate and provide special practical training for women saffron growers.
  • Training of  the saffron laboratory technicians on quality control
  • Support PHD, M.Sc. Degree training involving saffron as a research theme
  • Establishment of farmer schools in villages
  • Coordination with ministry of higher education to Inclusion of saffron education in the curricula of agriculture faculties vocational schools


Expected conclusion after implementation of the saffron national extension design

  • Increasing area under saffron cultivation from 1000 hectare to 3000-4000 hectare, up to end of fifth year
  • Land productivity increase from 3.5kg/H to 5kg/H
  • Saffron production increase from 3500 kg to 14000 kg by end of 5th year.
  • Creating 1080000 working days which is equal to 5400 permanentjob in agriculture sector, and about 1000 more permanent jobs in transport, industry and business sectors up to end of fifth year.
  • Promoting the current 0,45% exporting portion of Afghanistan’s saffron to 2.5% in the international market
  • Establishment of standard processing and packaging centers in those all districts which has saffron production.
  • Providing barcode for all saffron producers.
  • There will be 6000 tons of forage for livestock.
  • 4000 hectare of land, previously uncultivated due to water shortage, will be brought under cultivation.
  • Loss of 8 million cubic meters of precipitation water will be prevented through the vegetative cover of saffron during the winter season.
  • At least 20,000 rural families will have sustainable incomes/secure over the life of the saffron plantation
  • At least 200 technical and skilled persons and 5,000 farmers will receive training on production, processing and marketing of saffron
  • Farmers’ inclination toward opium cultivation will be reduced.



5 years cost US$


Increase Productivity and Production (Expansion of Geographic Coverage).



Standardization, Certification and Quality Assurance:



Promotion of Afghan Saffron at national/International Markets



Applied research through establishment of international institute.



 Capacity Building saffron Stakeholders.



Medium term Loan(at return should be after 3 years)