By: Zia Danesh
Translated by: Hashmatullah Hameed
Government of Afghanistan is decisive to take greater and quicker steps to promote and extend cultivation, productivity and trade of saffron. Raising of saffron harvesting by 70 percent, several-hundred-fold increase in the areas being used for growing saffron and accordingly expansion of saffron cultivation in other provinces, indicate that efforts to enhance production and trade of saffron is being made rapidly and seriously. Establishment of “National Saffron Committee” as a well-ordered structure aims to pursue the plans and policies set for this purpose.
According to the recent data that Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock has provided, cultivation and exploitation of saffron have been improved by 71 percent within the past one and half years, and so far 240 tons of saffron corm has been distributed to farmers in 31 provinces. Analyzing the figures and statistics presented in the recent years, shows that the areas dedicated for saffron cultivation have reached to 1050 hectares producing 3.7 tons of saffron within a period of 15 years, but even areas under cultivation of saffron have been expanded to a greater extent in 2016 where, showing 250 percent growth, the areas have been extended by 1520 hectares that resulted in production of 6.5 tons of saffron.
In addition to opening up cooperation with the countries interested to work in the area of saffron in Afghanistan, the government has signed cooperative contracts with local universities so that growing, harvesting and trading of saffron become modernized and are conducted in accordance with academic principles.
On the other side, it is anticipated that, in the coming years, a significant amount of money will be allocated for selling and trading saffron globally which will turn saffron into a strategic and industrial product. In other words, growing interest of countries for cultivation and production of saffron indicates that this exceptional plant has turned into an industrial and strategic product at global level.
Comparing the prices of saffron in the recent 16 years shows that its price is soaring. In 2000, each kilogram of saffron cost around $200 while it has climbed to $1600 - $1800 in 2017. This upward trend will certainly be a vital opportunity for people of Afghanistan, particularly the climatic condition of Afghanistan has been identified suitable for saffron cultivation. Due to this, Afghanistan ranked first globally for three consecutive years in production of high quality saffron.
Saffron development in recent 14 years
Afghanistan has a long history of saffron cultivation as its pertinent experts have found a type of saffron bulb in Qala-e Bost of Helmand with 5000 years of history. After 2001, growing and trading saffron in the country has highly and seriously drawn attentions. Within this period, the rate of saffron cultivation in our country is ascending; and it is expected that after 12 years, scale of cultivation, exploitation and revenue of saffron will become several-hundred-folded.
According to liable sources, 730 hectares of land were under saffron cultivation in 2014 while this amount has reached to 2,811 hectare during the current year. Afghanistan has produced and harvested around 7 tons of saffron in 2016 which indicates 71 percent of growth in comparison with 2015. To follow National Saffron Development Program, the government aims to expand areas under saffron cultivation to four thousand hectares and the production ceiling to 14 tons within the next five years, and to a larger extent, the government intends to increase this amount to 70-100 tones.
It is worth mentioning that, saffron corm was being imported from abroad, but now import rate of saffron corm is equal to zero, and Afghanistan itself has become self-reliance in production of saffron corm.
Government’s Measures and Programs
On the one hand, government of Afghanistan has initiated numerous programs in order to promote growing, harvesting and trading of saffron; on the other side, different international institutions and organizations have provided assistance through Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock in this regard.
The government strives to enhance the producing and harvesting rate of saffron to 100 tons annually by 2028. To achieve this goal, the government has taken the following measures:
1.Enhancing saffron production and productivity
As indicated, the areas under cultivation of saffron will be expanded through two programs so that, within the next five years, volume of saffron production in the country will reach to 14 tons, and in the next 12 years to 70-100 tons annually.
Expanding geographical regions under saffron cultivation, training of farmers and companies, scientifying of the saffron processing and conducting multidimensional academic researches on the product, are assumed to be the approaches to enhance productivity of saffron in the country.
2.Marketing and supporting measures
The government has made extensive efforts for marketing saffron products particularly by creating markets in the Gulf countries. Some countries based on bilateral deals, have offered tax exemption on exporting saffron to their countries. As a result of these efforts, an agreement has been signed with China, and negotiation is underway with Arab and European countries as well.
3.Quality control and assurance
The factor of quality plays a key role in price and sale of saffron; therefore, endeavors are going on for harvesting, packaging and exporting of this precious product in accordance with global standards as well as market demand. Besides, the government is providing technical services such as training of farmers on collecting and proper drying of saffron, and helping private companies to maintain quality. Furthermore, a number of technical services that the government has provided so far, consist of granting ISO certification to reliable companies by Afghanistan National Standard Authority, barcoding and establishing of quality control laboratories, and sending people abroad to receive training on barcoding and preventing fraud.
It shouldn’t be left unsaid that extensive efforts have been made to determine a specific brand for Afghanistan’s saffron.
4.Scientification of growing and harvesting
Utilizing scientific and technical methods in growing, harvesting and processing of saffron can remarkably help in both raising production and generating income. Therefore, during the current year, Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock has launched joint researches in this regard in cooperation with Herat, Kabul, Mazar-e Sharif and Faryab universities. These academic centers will train 5,000 farmers and company staff in a professional manner and provide the grounds for supplementary education to 200 of them as professional employee.
Moreover, an international institute will be established in cooperation with foreign universities and research centers in order to conduct researches on saffron plant. Also, a Chinese company will soon start its research activities on several products including saffron from Bamiyan.
5.Modernization of trade
Government of Afghanistan has strived to provide platforms for participation of companies involved in saffron trade at international exhibitions. Participating at these exhibitions will help Afghan companies to achieve marketing opportunity, use the experience of pioneer companies in the area of packaging and processing, and understand the real demand of clients.
Standard, creative and attractive packaging can help to expand the country’s saffron market, and grasp many opportunities for selling of the product.
Coming decade’s perspective in saffron cultivation and production in Afghanistan
Improvement in saffron cultivation and increase in number of farmers who take up saffron cultivation indicate that saffron cultivation and production is overwhelmingly welcomed inside the country. In other words, as saffron is a highly income-generating product, it resulted in increasing growth of trends for this product.
With consideration to increasing international market’s demand for saffron, higher price of saffron in comparison to other agricultural products, dry climate of Afghanistan suitable for saffron cultivation, and high number of inexpensive human power for production and process that 90 percent of it is done manually, it is anticipated that cultivation and trade of this product in the country will have daily expedition, and Afghanistan will be one of the main providers of saffron in global market in the near future.