EghtesadOnline: Taking eco-friendly measures, Iranian startup Keshmoon based in South Khorasan Province has ventured on building a direct bridge between saffron farmers and consumers. According to the firm's directors, Keshmoon intends to secure a better future for the saffron industry, alongside establishing a reliable source of income for the farmers.
Keshmoon (literally means sowing) was established in 2017 by Qaempanah brothers, Hamzeh and Mohammad, and a close friend of theirs, Siamak Khorrami, all residents of a small city called Qaen. The startup is gradually gaining traction with Iranians.
Coming from a saffron farming background, the young entrepreneurs are seeking to provide customers with the chance to purchase quality saffron from experienced growers directly, reported local news website drstartup.ir.
Mohammad Qaempanah is of the opinion that the current distribution network does not do justice to conscientious farmers, with consumers not able to tell them apart from profiteering dealers, Financial Tribune reported.
"We have established an online market that links consumers to reliable and experienced farmers," Qaempanah has been quoted as saying. The measure is aimed at removing the avaricious dealers so as to provide customers with quality products at a lower price and increase the farmers' profit margin over time.
Providing producers with incentives to move toward organic farming is top of Keshmoon's list of priorities. Qaempanah says, "Farmers need to avoid using chemical fertilizers, and they should follow water-saving policies."
Organic farming is an alternative agricultural system which originated early in the 20th century in reaction to rapidly changing farming practices. It relies on fertilizers of organic origin such as compost manure, green manure, and bone meal and places emphasis on techniques such as crop rotation and companion planting.
Biological pest control, mixed cropping and the fostering of insect predators are encouraged. In general, organic standards are designed to allow the use of naturally occurring substances while prohibiting or strictly limiting synthetic substances.
According to Qaempanah, farmers will be supervised, and their products will go through quarterly checkups, eventually to be packed with their names printed on the packages.
"Products most in line with organic standards will be proposed for higher bids. In addition, farmers that use water supplies economically will be rewarded," he told Hamshahri newspaper.
A proponent of sustainable development and environment-friendly policies, Qaempanah pointed to the gravity of the current water crisis endangering the future of saffron farmers.
He cautions that most water sources Iranian farmers rely on are drying up including water wells and qanats, urging the need for immediate measures in dealing with the matter.
A qanat is a gently sloping underground channel to transport water from an aquifer or water well to surface for irrigation and drinking. This is an old system of water supply from a deep well with a series of vertical access shafts.
Qanats still offer a reliable supply of water for Iranian farmers in hot, arid climates. The technique was developed in ancient Iran by the Persian people sometime in the early first millennium BC, and spread from there slowly westward and eastward.
Keshmoon handles packing and delivery services of products. Each farmer owns a personal page on Keshmoon's website, featuring pictures of their houses and farms. They also have an online shop, putting their products for sale.
Qaempanah says, "Consumers can rest assured that they have purchased items of high quality, feeling as if they have bought something from a friend. Moreover, farmers earn their due social status as well as larger shares of profits [compared to selling saffron to dealers]."
"Orders from Mashhad are delivered by bicycle and the ones submitted from other cities will be delivered through the mail by two days, granting orders above five mithqals (23.5 grams) free shipping service," the Keshmoon director added.
Saffron is one of the most expensive spices all over the world; therefore, numerous cheat tricks have been devised to take advantage of its high status in the seasoning chain. Therefore, Keshmoon's website tries to educate consumers on how to determine saffron's quality. The website lists the following features as means to check the product's quality: bitter taste, slow coloring speed, trumpet-shaped heads and greaseless, long and healthy-looking threads.
>Exports on Agenda
Having studied various saffron markets worldwide, including China, India, Arab nations, Europe and North America, Keshmoon founders initially planned to tap into the European Union market as it offers better pricing and pays more attention to social and ecological impacts, and a trendy online shopping system. Though, facing various hurdles they were forced to put the plan on hold and launch their business in Iran.
Nicknamed as "the red gold", saffron can be harvested in few parts of the globe, one of which is Iran, especially in eastern provinces including South Khorasan and Razavi Khorasan.
The latest data show Iran exported over 160 tons of saffron worth $219 million during the nine months to Dec. 22, 2017, indicating a 26% and 33.33% growth in value and volume respectively compared with the previous year's corresponding period, ISNA reported.
Fifty-six countries bought Iranian saffron during the nine-month period. The UAE with 23 tons, Hong Kong with over 15 tons, Spain with over 14 tons, Afghanistan with over 5 tons and China with over 4 tons of purchases were the main buyers.
Saffron is one of the main ingredients of Iranian cuisine. Balancing the levels of dopamine and serotonin in the body, it induces a feeling of bliss in individuals. Serotonin produces saffron's red hue, and as an antioxidant, it fights off the malignant cells in cancer patients.
Keshmoon earned the first title in Karzar Event, one of the biggest Iranian startup competitions hosting 800 fledgling firms in its first round as well as the second rank in another startup contest, the Silk Road Event held in Kish Island.
ICT Minister Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi had previously named Keshmoon on his Twitter account as one of the most promising startups in Iran.
Hailed by Hamshahri Javan Magazine as the most successful startup in the last Iranian year which ended in March, Keshmoon intends to capture 4% of Iran's saffron market over the next three years.