Iran accounts for 130-160 tons of the 200 tons of saffron produced worldwide every year and ranks first and far ahead of Spain, Italy, the US, China, Afghanistan, Austria, Switzerland and Argentina where the rest is grown.
Saffron is an expensive spice known as red gold. Despite the price that rivals that of precious metals, growing saffron is very simple and accessible to anyone.
Soil plays the most important part in saffron cultivation. Other than that, it needs little water to grow and can be easily stored for a long time and transported at low cost.
The spice is well adapted to semi-arid climate with strong resistance against cold. The crop is not cultivable in the north and the south of Iran as rainfall and humidity are detrimental to its growth in summer when the crop prepares to bloom in the next season.
Khorasan Razavi Province is best suited for saffron production followed by Fars, Hamedan, Kerman, Yazd and Qom provinces. In fact, in recent years, when many crops suffered the adverse impacts of shrinking water resources in the country, saffron farmers gained the most.
Despite the eye-catching production figures, profitability in this sector has remained insignificant mainly as a result of low productivity and lack of branding and proper packaging. Regrettably, Iran is not recognized as the largest saffron exporter as other countries, namely Spain and France, reprocess and package the Iranian saffron and reexport it under their own brands.
According to official statistics released by Agriculture Organization of Khorasan Razavi Province, from 1974 to 2002, saffron production in Iran progressively increased. Unofficial data suggest that the trend is still ongoing, which could serve as a strong motivation for investors to engage in the sector.
In 1973, 17 tons of saffron were produced from 2,950 hectares that were under cultivation at the time. In 2002, the cultivated land grew to 45,000 hectares and the production figure rose to 180 tons. On average, around 20 tons of the produced saffron are consumed domestically and the rest is exported overseas.
Although the increase in cultivated land matters, productivity plays a more important role. Some farmers produce 7 kilograms of saffron per hectare while others have managed to harvest 8 kilograms by optimizing energy consumption and human resources.
Therefore, potential investors should enter the field with sufficient knowledge and be equipped with effective tools to boost productivity.