EghtesadOnline: A total of 186 tons of saffron worth $200 million were exported from Iran during the first nine months of the current Iranian year (March 21-Dec. 21, 2019), according to the executive manager of the Agriculture Ministry's National Medicinal Plants Project.
“This year, more than 404 tons of saffron were harvested from over 114,000 hectares of land,” Hossein Zeynali was also quoted as saying by ILNA.
“Iran exports saffron to 10 countries, mostly through the UAE,” Mohsen Ehtesham, the head of Iran's National Council of Saffron, has been quoted as saying by Fars News Agency.
Spain, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Italy, Afghanistan, Qatar, India, Germany and France are the main destinations of Iranian saffron, according to Financial Tribune.
Saffron exports hit 280 tons worth $351 million in the last fiscal year (March 2018-19).
Iran is the world’s biggest producer of saffron and accounts for about 90% of global production.
Land under saffron cultivation is increasing each year in line with the growth in production.
“Cultivation area for saffron in Iran is 20 times bigger than the total land dedicated to growing saffron in the whole world,” says Iran’s Deputy Agriculture Minister Ali Tahmasebi, adding that Iran is increasing the area by 5,000 hectares a year.
According to the official, planting saffron is no longer restricted to the three provinces of North Khorasan, South Khorasan and Khorasan Razavi in eastern Iran. Farmers now also harvest saffron from other parts of the country, including in 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.
Experts say Iran is not properly benefiting from the lucrative international business of saffron, mainly because of bulk production methods and increased smuggling to neighboring countries.
Officials say two-thirds of Iran’s annual production of saffron, around 300 tons, go to the bulk sale, while others suggest around 20 tons are being smuggled out and 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.
Experts believe 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 inside the country.
The saffron industry has created some 200,000 jobs along the pre-harvest, harvest, post-harvest, processing, sorting and packaging chain.
According to Zeynali, about 50% of saffron cultivation process in Iran are now mechanized and the whole process is expected to become mechanized in two years.
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.