March 1, 2009

saffron; a new hue in the fields of Afghanistan

2/3 of the world's heroin originates in Afghanistan where opium poppies have flourished since the American invasion in 2001. Now farmers in Herat province are exploring a lucrative option.

James Palmer, Chronicle Foreign Service
Sunday, March 1, 2009

Haji Abdul Ghayoum squats over a plant that pushes a magnificent rainbow of color up from cracked soil. The 42-year-old farmer runs his weathered hands through the green leaves and purple petals. Next, he fingers the red stigmas - thread-like filaments that are changing this part of the world.

In an effort to eradicate opium production, the Afghan government, international aid groups and private businesses are distributing saffron crocus bulbs to farmers in this region along the Iran border. The farmers say their new crop is better suited to their religious beliefs (Islam prohibits the use and sale of illicit drugs) and, ultimately, is more profitable.

Worldwide demand for Afghan saffron is rising, and the price has doubled in the past year to an average of $1,360 per pound - or roughly 38 times what poppy farmers in the southern part of the country earn.
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EJ said...

Yes, but what is the yield per acre. The stigmas are miniscule!

anne said...

Good point. A quick search says 2 kg acre traditionally with "new tissue culture" increasing that to 6-8.

ChristyACB said...

Anne is about right. New tissue culture is just refreshing bulbs since production increases and then decreases with each bulb in time and successive years.

I know that when I'm over in the middle east I always come home with a nice little container of precious saffron. Not all saffron is created equal and climate plays a huge role in the richness of it.

As for profit, well, you can't do better really. Poppy fields are also highly intensive work. Saffron is slightly finer work, but slightly less intensive. Good tradeoff. And as for profit, well, over there at their prices, which cuts out the American profit machine entirely, I still pay 70 bucks for half an ounce. 70 bucks is a LOT of money to a farmer who is used to living on that much a month!

I'm glad to see it happening. It also frees them from pernicious drug related activities and organized crime. That is very good.

anne said...

Bizarre that all this is happening within a context of urgent food scarcity.
see for e.g.

I expect wheat or pulses would be the people's first choice, given that 80% of wheat flour is imported and hunger is a real and pressing crisis.
How does tight control of irrigation effect farmer's crop choices?
Problem with food sustainability is there are few profits to me made by non-farmers.