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.