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Dec 18 2010

Saffron Production

Available facts and figures show since the beginning of the current Iranian year (March 21), about 220 tons of pure saffron worth 4.4 trillion rials (about $4.4 million) have been produced nationwide. The value of saffron production in the said period is equivalent to that of one million tons of wheat.

Khorasan Razavi province ranks first in the country in terms of saffron production with 78 percent of land under plantation producing about 150 tons of the red gold. South Khorasan province ranks second nationwide with 12,000 hectares of area under plantation equivalent to 41 tons, the Persian daily 'Hamshahri' reported.

Production of wheat in every hectare of land requires twice as much water as needed for production of saffron. This implies that planting saffron in dry areas in the Iranian plateau has a very good economic justification.

It seems that the rise in price of saffron by 1,100 percent in the past three years which even reached the unprecedented figure of 48 million rials per kilogram is the reason behind farmers' interest in planting the expensive plant.

Apart from the two saffron production hubs of the country in the provinces situated in the Persian Gulf coastal areas, saffron is also planted in the central desert strips such as Khor and Biabanak in Isfahan province and even in the slopes of Zagros Mount, especially Lorestan. This by itself means start of new widespread plantation of saffron throughout the country.

Head of Lorestan's Agro and Natural Resources Research Center Karim Qorbani said bulk plantation of saffron in the province started some two years ago.

"Given the recent draughts, this year plantation of saffron has started in less fertile lands of the province with distribution of 60 tons of high quality saffron roots," he added.
Manager of Kashan's Agricultural Jihad Organization Javad Amanpour said Kashan has 10 years of experience in planting saffron.

"At present, the average exploitation of dried saffron in Kashan, which is a desert area, is four kilograms per hectare and the figure reaches 7 kg per hectare in some regions," he added.

Banking Faculties

Amanpour noted that in order to promote planting saffron his organization grants banking faculties within the framework of Touba Plan to those farmers who have at least one hectare of land.

Deputy head of Khor and Biabanak Agricultural Jihad Organization, Hassan Salehi said in view of shortage of water and frost of date groves of the region in 2007, planting saffron has been a good replacement for growing dates.

"About 5,500 kg of saffron roots have been distributed among farmers of Khor and Biabanak," he noted.
It seems that the crave for planting the precious plant is rapidly spreading throughout the country.

However, hike in production without heeding the global consumption of saffron is tantamount to accepting the dangers of decline of local prices and planters suffering losses.

If we remember the repetitious cycle of planting onions ad potatoes in the past years, we understand that absence of information about the area under plantation of these two products, the domestic need level and the capacity for exports among farmers, perpetually led to the shortage of one of the products and prices of both going up and then prices coming down sharply the subsequent year.

Perhaps, we are witness to recurrence of this sad story in the case of saffron.

The steep rise in the price of saffron, especially last year, entailed other consequences also, among which is elimination of the product from the purchasing basket of many local consumers.

Fake Saffron

Director General of Tehran Institute of said the use of fake saffron in some restaurants of the capital has spread.

"In the plan for inspecting Tehran's restaurants and fast food joints it was made clear that some of these places use the illegal color of Tartrazine with an Arab trademark which is very poisonous and can cause cancer."

Chief of the Union of Sellers and Exporters of Saffron Gholam Reza Miri said inadmissible food color and artificial saffron are mainly imported from India, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

"The people in charge of food industries of the country care more about color than other properties of saffron. Due to use of chemical colors, the per capita consumption of natural saffron has declined," he pointed out.

The local consumption level of saffron at best pertains to 20 percent of the current production level. Hence, it is necessary to export the remaining 80 percent.

Nevertheless, potential exporters have not yet fomented unity regarding exports in their decision-makings. Some exporters maintain that saffron should be exported in bulks and some others believe that it should be exported in small packs. It is high time that exporters of saffron reached a unified stance and notify Commerce Ministry accordingly.

© Iran Daily 2010

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