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Saffron touted as the best alternative to poppy

in Afghan Business

Saffron touted as the best alternative to poppy

Given the high sales price of the spice and its compatibility with the arid Afghan environment, saffron industry is supported by the Afghan government.

Earlier this year, the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock distributed 65,000 kg of saffron to Afghan farmers.

In a bid to promote cultivation of the spice all over the country, the Ministry planned to buy saffron plants from farmers with surplus saffron on their lands and distribute it to the farmers in provinces with less cultivation of the plant. In addition, the Ministry provided tools to cultivate saffron, fertilizer, insecticides and fungicides.

The price of one kilogram of processed saffron in Afghanistan is up to US$3,000 and regionally it can reach as high as $6,000. The international price of saffron reaches up to $8,000 dollars.

The spice is certainly a lucrative business to the farmers, and owed to its ability to be grown in a dry environment; it may be a viable alternative for the poppy cultivation in the country.

The plant is drought resistant and only needs irrigation twice or three times a year, compared to poppy plants irrigated six times a year. Another advantage is that growing saffron is legal in Islam, unlike poppy that is prohibited.

Saffron is currently produced in 23 provinces, with Herat bearing the highest level of saffron cultivation in the country.

Saffron is normally cultivated in summer and collected in the last month of fall. It is used in making medicines, adding flavour to food, appetizers, hot drinks and making perfume. It grows best in areas with light winter weather and dry, hot summers.

Saffron is yet to emerge as a major alternative to poppy cultivation in Afghanistan due to the presence of international drug lords, who control the lucrative drug commerce.



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  1. Mehdi Barghchi PhD
    Mehdi Barghchi PhD 13 October, 2013, 09:07

    Saffron production can be much more profitable for farmers than growing Poppies for opium production. Poppy plantation for Opium production is not only a major problem in Afghanistan; it is a problem for the region and to a large extent for Europe too. Climate is suitable for poppy production in Afghanistan and farmers have been planting poppy as there is a market for it. However farmers do not get much financial benefit and the main profits are made further up the chain. To stop poppy plantation and opium production, the farmers need to have an alternative crop.

    Saffron is a good candidate to help production of high value agricultural product for Afghanistan as the climate is ideal and Saffron is the most highly valued agricultural product in the world. Saffron production will be a valuable crop for Afghanistan as it demands high labour input which will help employment situation in the countryside. However, as saffron will provide higher income than Poppy production, it will compete with poppy production and due to local circumstances security for saffron producers may be an issue.

    At the time that Afghanistan’s economy need a lot of support, it would make sense to offer an alternative to poppy production which will help the farmers and the economy therefore supporting saffron production will be a good strategic plan. Traditionally there has been some saffron production in Afghanistan but here has been massive improvement in breeding and production of saffron corms (starting material to grow saffron) which are used for plantation such as production of virus free saffron corms as starting material. If the production of this valuable crop is to be promoted in the region, it would make sense to benefit from advancements of science and technology rather than simply copy the old ways and methods which are inferior. For example, each plant of saffron will produce one or two plant (corms) for the following year and if it is diseased (virus infection is very common), the yield in the following year will be reduced in quality and quantity. We have the technology to produce thousands of new superior and improved plants from one plant in a few months (virus-free / disease free and genetically improved through micro-propagation and tissue culture). So it would be good to have a strategic plan to establish a healthy and valuable agricultural crop production for Afghanistan and use the aid finance to enable the farmers to establish a viable agricultural production right from the beginning. We can help and train Afghans to do this.

    Saffron is a good candidate to help production of high value agricultural product for Afghanistan as the climate is ideal and Saffron is the most highly valued agricultural product in the world. Saffron production will be a valuable crop for Afghanistan as it demands high labour input which will help employment situation in the countryside. Furthermore, as irrigation water is limited in Afghanistan, growing saffron in suitable areas makes sense as it can grow in drier areas and it needs even less water than poppy plantation which is used for opium production. However, as saffron will provide higher income than Poppy production, it will compete with poppy production and due to local circumstances security for saffron producers may be an issue.

    At the time that Afghanistan’s economy need a lot of support, it would make sense to offer an alternative to poppy production which will help the farmers and the economy therefore supporting saffron production will be a good strategic plan. Traditionally there has been some saffron production in Afghanistan but here has been massive improvement in breeding and production of saffron corms (starting material to grow saffron) which are used for plantation such as production of virus free saffron corms as starting material. If the production of this valuable crop is to be promoted in the region, it would make sense to benefit from advancements of science and technology rather than simply copy the old ways and methods which are inferior. For example, each plant of saffron will produce one or two plant (corms) for the following year and if it is diseased (virus infection is very common), the yield in the following year will be reduced in quality and quantity. We have the technology to produce thousands of new superior and improved plants from one plant in a few months (virus-free / disease free and genetically improved through micro-propagation and tissue culture). So it would be good to have a strategic plan to establish a healthy and valuable agricultural crop production for Afghanistan and use the aid finance to enable the farmers to establish a viable agricultural production right from the beginning. We can help and train Afghans to do this.

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