EghtesadOnline: A total of 132.75 tons of saffron were exported from Iran during the first eight months of the current Iranian year (March 21-Nov. 21).
The volume of exports show a 13% decline compared with the similar period of last year, according to the deputy head of Iran National Saffron Council.
“At present, each kilogram of Iranian saffron is sold at between $500-800 in foreign markets,” Gholamreza Miri was also quoted as saying by Young Journalists Club.
It is estimated that exports during the eight months were valued at $86 million, according to Financial Tribune.
“Iran exports saffron to 10 countries and 86% of its exports are through the UAE,” the head of Iran's National Council of Saffron, Mohsen Ehtesham, was quoted as saying by Fars News Agency.
Spain, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Italy, Afghanistan, Qatar, India, Germany and France are other export destinations for Iran's saffron.
Saffron exports hit 280 tons worth $351 million in the last fiscal year (March 2018-19).
A total of 404 tons of the precious spice were produced from 113,000 hectares in Iran last year.
Land under saffron cultivation is increasing each year, as its production grew to 382 tons in 2018 from 336 tons in 2016.
Ehtesham expects the 2019 output to reach 450 tons.
Iran’s Deputy Agriculture Minister Ali Tahmasebi said Iran’s area under saffron cultivation exceeds 115,000 hectares, which is 20 times bigger than the total land dedicated to growing saffron in the whole world, adding that Iran is annually increasing the area by 5,000 hectares.
Tahmasebi said planting saffron is no longer restricted to the three provinces of North Khorasan, South Khorasan and Khorasan Razavi.
“Farmers now also harvest saffron in various parts of the country, including Chaharmahal-Bakhtiari Province, a cold and mountainous region in central Iran, as well as in Khuzestan, a southern province known for its hot and humid climate,” he said.
This is while experts believe Iran is not benefiting from the lucrative international business of saffron, mainly because of bulk production and increased smuggling to neighboring countries.
Officials say two-thirds of Iran’s annual production of saffron, around 300 tons, go to bulk sale, while others suggest around 20 tons are being smuggled out, mainly to neighboring Afghanistan.
Sources within the industry say smuggling to Afghanistan has increased because traditional customers of Iranian saffron, like Spanish companies, seek to avoid direct imports due to the American sanctions imposed on the country.
Iran could have a much higher share of the international trade of saffron if more work is done on branding and marketing of the product.
The saffron industry has created some 200,000 jobs along the pre-harvest, harvest, post-harvest, processing, sorting and packaging chain.
According to Hossein Zeinali, executive manager of the Agriculture Ministry's National Medicinal Plants Project, about 50% of saffron cultivation process in Iran are mechanized and the whole process will become mechanized in two years.
Iran is the world’s biggest producer of saffron and accounts for about 90% of global production.
Per capita consumption of saffron in Iran stands at 1 gram. Annually, 80 tons of saffron are consumed domestically.
The Qanat-based saffron farming system in Iran's northeastern Khorasan Razavi Province’s Gonabad County has been designated a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System.
The designation came at a meeting in Rome of the GIAHS Scientific Advisory Group affiliated with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations on Dec. 21, 2018.
“This cultivation system is unique in that the farms are irrigated via qanat systems that were constructed in the region hundreds of years ago. As saffron is a drought-tolerant plant and Gonabad is located in an arid and semi-arid region, the qanat-based saffron farming system, a legacy handed down to farmers of the region by their ancestors, provides the means for efficient water management,” Ali Kianirad, an official with Agricultural Planning, Economic and Rural Development Research Institute, affiliated with the Agriculture Ministry, had told Financial Tribune in an earlier interview.
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.