Saffron, the Axis of Economic Self-sufficiency

afghanistan saffron

Mohammad Hashim Aslam,
Saffron Development Senior Advisor

Food security and sustainable development are important for all countries, and achieving economic and sustainable development is a fundamental goal of a society and a country.

One of the key factors in achieving this goal is the development of agriculture. Growth in crop exports boosts the agricultural sector, which in turn underpins economic development.

Since agriculture forms the basis of the Afghan economy, special attention should be paid to it as one of the key pillars of development. On the other hand, it is very important to select plants for cultivation that are most economically productive. Among the various crops produced in the agriculture sector is saffron, which has an extraordinary economic value and is known as a special crop or (High Value Crop).

Currently, over 90 percent of the world's saffron production operations are manual or non-mechanized. Due to the high wage in the European countries, saffron production has fallen sharply. For instance, saffron production fall from 25 tons to 2.3 this year. Afghanistan has an absolute advantage over saffron production due to its large and cheap workforce.

On the other hand, saffron production in Afghanistan could open up more and more as an alternative crop to suitable climatic provinces and institutionalize the economy and legitimate income rather than the illegitimate economy, which could have fatal social, political and economic consequences.

In addition, climate change, non-need of saffron for water and irrigation in summer, easy transportation due to light weight, possibly of 80 percent of harvest labor by family members and women, creation of job opportunity for people in villages in unemployment season (November, December), resistance to diseases and insects, land preparation and cultivation operation, and farmers’ interest in growing the crop are Afghanistan’s dominance and leading privileges of saffron production.

According to the aforementioned points, the Government of Afghanistan has taken rapid and long steps from the address of the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock with a comprehensive plan to develop and expand the cultivation, productivity and trade of saffron.

Until a few years ago, Afghanistan imported its needed saffron seed and dried thread from abroad, which according to the available information in the past based on the survey conducted in Mazar and Herat, 400 kilograms of low quality saffron was imported from Iran and was sold at domestic markets.

But now, thanks to government attention and comprehensive planning and support from the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, the crop has grown to about 6,000 hectares, and production levels close to 16,000 kilograms, and the saffron bush reserves in Afghanistan are estimated to be more than 120,000 tons.

Afghanistan, not long known as a saffron-producing country in the world, today ranked third among the 30 countries in producing saffron, with 3.5 percent of the world's saffron production, making the industry more valuable in Afghanistan. Afghanistan saffron worth is estimated at 140 million USD.

In terms of exports, our beloved country is ranked third after Iran and Spain, accounting for 2.5 percent of the world's saffron exports.

Saffron is one of the most job-creating crops that currently provide job for 18,950 men and 5,000 women in 33 provinces.

The inclusion of saffron as an independent sector in the national export policy and the formulation and approval of the saffron export strategy by the High Economic Council and Council of Ministers along with the approval of the five-year National Saffron Sustainable Development Plan are other achievements of the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL).

Establishing a saffron quality control laboratory and working for "accreditation" or accrediting it internationally by ITC, establishing an international saffron institute for research and training demonstrates the government's determination to support sustainable development industry.

In addition to the impressive achievements above, the Ministry of Agriculture has long-term plans to consolidate Afghanistan's saffron status internationally, such as GI registration, bar code and brand building, and having the standard logo in coordination with the Ministries of Commerce, Finance, Economics, the National Bureau of Standards and international donors and institutions are working to enable Afghanistan to produce about 50 percent of the world's saffron in the near future, given the potential for good climate and high quality of saffron production, Afghanistan will fulfil world’s need for saffron by 50 percent.

In view of the above points, we conclude that the Afghan saffron industry has achieved self-sufficiency in seed production and has become one of the major exporting countries in saffron dried thread production.