Saffron could be killer of Afghan
heroin By Athar Parvaiz
SRINAGAR - Weaning Afghanistan's poppy
farmers away from growing the raw material for the
bulk of the world's illicit heroin has never been
easy, but Kashmir's saffron cultivators may have
A high-value crop, saffron has
long been seen as a counternarcotics candidate,
but the idea has a chance of coming
to fruition with expertise
from farmers in India's Jammu and Kashmir state
who produce the finest saffron anywhere.
An agreement signed in February between
the agriculture ministries of the two countries
paved the way for a 25-member delegation from
Afghanistan to visit Jammu and Kashmir in November
and see how the state's success with saffron can
After touring Pampore, the
main center for the saffron industry, located 14
kilometers east of Srinagar, delegation chief
Naseem Atai told Inter Press Service (IPS) that he
was hopeful of a "change of choice" in his
"Once our farmers grow saffron in
the manner of their Kashmiri counterparts, they
will certainly find it a profitable agricultural
activity and they may ultimately give up growing
poppy," Atai said. "We have seen how Kashmiri
farmers are earning good dividends by growing
saffron. We can do the same for Afghanistan if we
adopt the same methods and techniques."
Afghan farmers, said Atai, have been
growing saffron since 2000 in Herat province near
Iran's border, "but the yield and quality are not
good since the farmers have no expertise or access
to good technology".
Iran and Spain are
the two other countries where saffron is grown,
with Iran producing 85% of the world's supply.
But, the quality of Kashmiri saffron - essentially
the dried stamen of the flower - is considered to
be far superior to that grown elsewhere in the
Saffron is sought after for the
aroma, color and flavor it imparts to rice and
other foodstuffs. It has also been used for
centuries in traditional medicines and as a
S A Nahvi, who heads the
Indian central government's saffron mission in
Jammu and Kashmir, says that the state's saffron
production has been improving with the
introduction of superior cultivation methods and
"We have already modernized
355 hectares out of the 4,000 hectares under
saffron," Nahvi said. "Over the last few years
there was a decline in production, but that has
"We showed the Afghan
delegation what we are doing to improve our own
saffron production. We took them to the saffron
fields and on visits to families engaged in
processing saffron at home."
why saffron has high value is that the production
involves much labor before and after harvesting.
The blossoms need to be picked in the early
morning as they open and be transported with care
to the homes or factories where the stigmas are
separated from the flowers.
the variety, some 400,000 or more stigmas may go
into the making of one kilogram of saffron. The
work must be done by hand, and since it calls for
nimbleness, the industry holds out employment
prospects for large numbers of women.
Saffron is considered the world's
costliest spice, and Kashmiri varieties currently
fetch US$3,600 per kg although prices in recent
years have gone as high as $6,000 per kg.
According to Nahvi, since the soil and
climatic conditions in Afghanistan are similar to
that in Kashmir, "they shouldn't have any problems
growing this crop if they adopt similar methods
Minister Ghulam Hassan Mir told IPS that Afghan
delegations would continue to visit Kashmir to
learn about the cultivation of saffron as well as
other horticultural products.
government has indicated that it is keen to wipe
out poppy cultivation and we are very much
interested in helping them achieve their
objective," he told IPS.
India to prop up various sectors of Afghanistan's
economy was formalized under a "strategic
partnership agreement" signed in New Delhi during
a visit by Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the
first week of October.
That agreement came
even as the United Nations Drug Control Agency
released the report of a survey that showed land
under poppy cultivation in Afghanistan increased
7% in 2011 to 131,000 hectares in response to
rising opium prices on the one hand and economic
hardships faced by Afghans on the other. The area
under cultivation is still a third less than the
record 193,000 hectares in 2007 following a steep
decline in 2009, which has now been reversed.
According to the Food and Agriculture
Organisation, while Afghanistan's National Drug
Control Strategy aims to eliminate illicit opium
poppy cultivation by 2013, the UN survey found
that poppy is now grown in 17 of the country's
provinces compared to 14 a year ago.
country accounts for 63% of the world's total
areas under opium poppy cultivation.
cultivation in Afghanistan has defied efforts by
the US and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization
allies to destroy poppy fields since opium and
heroin are known to generate revenues for
fundamentalist militant organizations starting
with the Taliban.
"Cultivation of poppy
has devastated our agriculture and reputation. Our
country is now known more for poppy and conflict
than for any positive activity. We want to change
that," said Asadullah Aurakzai, a member of the