Afghanistan finds saffron as antidote to opium production
The Afghan government has increased saffron production by 22 percent this year as part of a plan to create an alternative source of income for farmers dependent on opium poppy cultivation.
It has provided 6,600 workers with special training in the cultivation, processing, and packaging of saffron in the hope that it could replace the bright red flowers of opium poppy, which partially fuel conflicts in the region.
“Saffron production in Afghanistan has witnessed an unprecedented growth this year, and has reached 13 tonnes,” said Akbar Rustami, the spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock.
“Saffron was cultivated in 15,610 acres of land in 33 provinces, producing 12,955 kg of saffron, which is nearly 13 metric tons,” Rustami added on Tuesday.
According to the spokesman, Herat, Faryab, Kandahar, Balkh, Sar-e-Pul, and Farah provinces had the highest level of saffron production this year.
“Saffron farmers received some $17 million in revenues by selling saffron crocin and picrocrocin in local markets,” he said, adding that 90 percent of the saffron is exported.
Saffron, a key seasoning, fragrance, dyes, and medicine in use for over three millennia, is one of the world's most expensive spices by weight. Known as the red gold, it sells for up to $1,500 per kilogram on Western markets.
Sayed Hafizullah Saeedi, director of the Agricultural Ministry in Kandahar, says they are hopeful that saffron will swiftly replace opium poppies in the predominantly rural agricultural region.