Iran, last year, exported 244 million dollars of saffron, long viewed as the world’s most expensive spice, but the trade is viewed more a bust than a bargain for the country.
As much as 170 tons of saffron was exported to 53 countries during the period, head of the Saffron Exporters Union Gholamreza Miri said.
The northeastern Khorasan province accounted for more than 148 tons of the exports which rose 27% versus the year before.
Iran produces around 95% of the spice described as the “red gold” which is laboriously collected from flimsy threads of crocus blooms. The crimson filaments are dried and used as seasoning or coloring in food.
Saffron cultivation has a history of more than 3,000 years in the Middle Eastern country but Iran gets a meager payback from the trade due to its cheap sales of the costly produce which are made in bulk.
Around 85% of Iran’s saffron exports go to the UAE, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong and India which process and re-export the crop in sleek packaging with better value-added.
Each kilo of saffron fetches up to $2,000 in global markets but for local Iranian producers, it barely pays for the labor.
Traditional cultivation and harvest methods as well as bulk sales stand out as the drawbacks of the sector but officials say middlemen and speculators are an additional burden.
“Middlemen and speculators play a key role in price fluctuations which seriously hamper steady exports,” Miri told the Fars news agency.
Revenues pale in comparison with Iran’s prodigious oil sales but unlike the oil industry which is a holding of the state, the sector employs as many as 100,000 locals and is a mainstay of sustenance in rural areas.
While Iran dominates the global market for production of saffron, its share of the trade, put around $1.5 billion, barely surpasses $250 million.