Afghan Farmers Switching from Opium to Saffron

Farmers in Afghanistan, which is one the biggest producers of drug in the world, are increasingly switching to saffron farming from opium farming

Saffron, also known as ‘red gold’, is a better alternative to poppy. A large number of Afghan farmers, realizing the potential of saffron cultivation, are switching to it.
In recent years, the Afghan government has made indefatigable efforts to curb the practice of poppy cultivation and introduce saffron as an alternative. As per government statistics, Afghanistan produces 90 percent of the world drug.
Afghanistan’s agricultural infrastructure has been left devastated by the decades of war. During this time, under the patronage of armed opposition groups, poppy cultivation got a fillip. But, in recent years, saffron has taken over from poppy and beautiful saffron fields are now spread across the country, beyond Herat and Farah, the only two places where it was being cultivated earlier.

Each kilogram of saffron is sold for 2,000 USD in Afghan markets, and in the international markets, the same amount of saffron is sold for 4,000 US

Agriculture officials in northern Balkh province say saffron cultivation increased by 50 percent in the province in 2012 compared to 2011. Mohammad Kateb Shams, Director of Agriculture and Livestock in Balkh, attributes the increase in saffron cultivation to training of farmers, access to saffron bulbs and fertilizers.
Among those who have taken up saffron cultivation includes 125 women and each of them were provided two tonnes of saffron bulbs, dryer machines and other necessary things by the government, says Mr. Shams.
He says only 700 kilogram of saffron bulb was produced across the province two year back, and in 2012, it has increased to two tonnes, cultivated by provincial farmers.
“Due to inclement weather conditions in Kaldar and Shor Tepa districts, the farmers could not cultivate saffron in their farms, but in the other 12 districts of Balkh, it was cultivated and the results have been tremendous,” says the official.
Each kilogram of saffron is sold for 2,000 USD in Afghan markets, and in the international markets, the same amount of saffron is sold for 4,000 US. Afghanistan has exported 2,800 kilograms of saffron in 2012, which is quite unprecedented.
Considering the process of packaging, marketing and processing of saffron, there has been significant increase in its export in 2012, says Mr. Shams.
Mostly, Afghan saffron is exported to Italy, Australia, Canada and China. The cultivation of saffron requires extreme weather conditions: hot and dry weather in summer and cold in winter. The land must be dry, flat and with no trees. The soil must be supplied with organic material to avoid risks of soil erosion, and it must have depth that allows the water to drain so that the bulb is not damaged.
The sowing takes place in the months of June and July and September and October. The bulbs are placed in ridges of about 20 centimeter depth and the distance between the bulbs is normally 10 cm.
The cultivation of saffron has brought positive changes in the lives and income of farmers like Shafiqullah. He lives in the Deh Dadyee area of Mazar e Sharif who has been cultivating saffron on two acres of his farmland since past two years and his financial condition is also good.
Earlier he used to cultivate poppy that earned him money, which was ‘haraam’ (Unislamic) and also illegal under government laws. Now, after switching to saffron, he feels content that the money he is making is legitimate and legal.
Agriculture officials say there are 272,000 hectares of fertile land and 150,000 hectares of rain-fed land in Balkh where they are trying cultivate saffron.
Saffron blooms in the autumn season. The initial flower of saffron is the primary crop that must be plucked on time. Saffron is a small plant that grows up to 10 to 30 cm.
A type of beautiful purple flower blooms out of its bulb and that is what produces the saffron spices, which has a tasty aroma used in cooking dishes and making medicines.
For thousands of years saffron has been used as medicine, perfume, dye, and as a wonderful flavoring agent for foods and beverages. Saffron has been used medicinally to treat fever, cramps, enlarged livers, and to calm nerves.
It has also been used externally for bruises, rheumatism and neuralgia, improving sexual prowess, blood pressure regulation, ease of blood circulation, controlling cholesterol level and preventing cardiac diseases.
About 150 flowers produce one gram of saffron and 147,000 flowers produce 1kg of pure and dry saffron, which is very expensive.
Iran, with the average production of 100 ton, is the largest producer of saffron in the world presently and Spain comes next with the average production of 25 ton. They are followed by India, Russia, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, China, Taiwan, France, Italy, Germany, Australia and Greece. 

Saffron, particularly after grinding, should be stored in glass jar away from light and moisture because the aromatic mineral and other specification of saffron can be dissolved if not maintained accordingly.
Since the saffron is known as ‘red gold’ in Asia, it is considered an expensive commodity. It has a long history spanning thousands of years. It was first produced by Egyptians and Greeks.

About 150 flowers produce one gram of saffron and 147,000 flowers produce 1kg of pure and dry saffron

Afghan saffron is of highest quality and has tremendous demand in international markets. Government has been trying hard to encourage farmers to take up saffron farming from opium.
Last year, during an international saffron exhibition held in France, among the 16 saffron producing countries, Afghan saffron took the top honors.
Economic experts have urged the government to provide better facilities for saffron cultivation in the country, which would significantly contribute to the national economy as well. 

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