“Saffron cultivation in Helmand has been successful, I hope it grows [throughout] Helmand in future,” said Zalmai Alko, the provincial director of agriculture.
Alko says they established 12 model farms in Helmand to promote saffron cultivation, and farmers tending the crops have been provided with the necessary equipment. He also said these farmers were in desperate need of assistance and will now hopefully be able to move forward and earn a living from saffron.
He said that creating jobs for these farmers was a key driving force behind the establishment of the farms.
According to him, the Helmand climate is suitable for saffron cultivation and he hopes saffron farming will become more prolific in the province.
Last year, 15 saffron farms were established as part of the pilot program in Helmand, which have now yielded results, Alko said.
Helmand is infamous for the proliferation of poppy farming for opium which ends up around the world as heroin and over the years the Afghan government has tried to encourage poor farmers to move away from the illicit cultivation of poppies and switch instead to crops including wheat and pomegranates – and now, hopefully, also saffron.
The saffron flower has purple petals, yellow stamens and a three-part red-orange stigma that becomes the saffron strands.
It is usually only harvested once a year in other parts of the country, but agriculture experts believe that due to the Helmand climate, saffron might grow year-round in the province, allowing for two harvests a year.
Currently one kilogram of saffron costs about $6,000 in the region and as much as $8,000 on international markets. Growing saffron may therefore potentially be very lucrative for farmers