How Saffron Came to Afghanistan
Afghanistan’s neighbor country Iran is the biggest producer of saffron. Iran supplies more than 90% of the saffron world market. The Iranian city Mashad is the center of saffron production. In times of war against the Russians millions of Afghan people had to flee to Iran. Many of them started working on Iranian farms where they learned all about the cultivation of saffron. After the war some families returned home to Afghanistan. They brought back saffron bulbs and started applying their knowledge about the cultivation to their home environment. Soon they called the attention of NGOs who understood the massive potential behind this development – especially in rural areas saffron could really be a lucrative alternative to the extensive cultivation of opium. Economically, Saffron is a great substitute for opium. Producers benefit from great market conditions because as a trade product saffron generates profits equally high to those of opium.
After the Soviet occupation and the fall of the Taliban regime, several local and international organizations supported farmers who wanted to switch production from opium to saffron. They assisted them with intensive trainings and provided educational programs teaching every step from the cultivation to the picking and processing of the saffron.
Chorasan – The Pearl of the East
The antique city of Herat is located at the ancient route of the legendary Silk Road. Back in time Herat was also called the “Florence of Asia”. The city was a centre of trade, art and culture within the old Persian empire. In the 6th century BC a new kingdom was established and the whole region, including Herat, Mashad and smaller provinces, was transformed into Khorasan, the so-called ‘Pearl of the East’. Soon you can learn more about Herat on our blog but now lets jump back to our topic – saffron.
After this little excursion into the history of the Afghan-Iranian border region, all the linguistic and cultural similarities make sense. But Afghanistan’s close relationship to Iran is not only explainable by cultural history; we also have to consider ecological aspects. Herat provides equally good ecological conditions- concerning the soil, water and climate – as Mashad, which is not even a four-hour drive by car away. Saffron from the province of Herat has a very high quality, that one from the Ghorian district is said to be the world’s best.
Saffron from Herat
In 2008 some agricultural engineers started cooperating with saffron farmers and together defined a common target – the cultivation of saffron! Our local contact was the german NGO Help e.V. which brought us together with agronomists and teachers from the University of Herat. Their field of expertise is the ecological cultivation of saffron. They are consulting the small farmers.
The German NGO ‚HELP – Help for self-help’ is doing research about the possible economical incentives of saffron cultivation for structurally weak regions. We learned about the wonderful Saffron project from our friends of HELP to whom we are in close contact. We are very thankful be part of the social change!
For you Conflictfood started the search for the ‘Red Gold’ and we found it on the fields of a woman’s collective in western Herat. Follow our next blog posts where you can find out more about the group of Afghan women who established this self-governed collective!