The saffron industry in Afghanistan is gaining a reputation for its quality and could become a boon to women looking for work. Julie Noce reports.
A group of women in the western Afghan city of Herat work to separate orange-ish red stigmas from purple flowers. This is saffron- the world's most expensive spice at about $1200 dollars per kilo. Here at the Ariana Saffron factory, it's separated by hand, then dried, and finally packaged. According to the head of company, Afghan saffron is fast gaining a reputation for its quality. We export to France, Sweden, Germany the U.S. and Arab countries, he said. There's a huge demand in the international market. Still, competition remains fierce from neighbouring Iran. Afghanistan produces around four tons a year compared to the more than 200 tons that Iran produces. And after decades of war and lawlessness, the United Nations estimates the opium trade still brings in about three billion dollars a year. Back in Herat, female workers pick the flower in the delicate harvest process which is only available for three weeks in October before the flower begins to die. Besides its profitability, another bright spot in a country struggling to get to it's feet-saffron cultivation offers paid work for women whose employment is limited by social conventions. There'll be more job opportunities for women, one worker said. Because all of the saffron workers are women and they take part in the harvesting process.