According to official figures, Iran exported 12,320 kilograms of saffron valued at $11.2 million to 32 countries during the previous calendar year ending March 19, said the president of the University of Torbat-e Heydarieh (northeastern Iranian province of Khorasan Razavi) and its Saffron Research Institute.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with Iran Daily, Mohammad-Hassan Fathi-Nasri added of this figure, 9,500 kilograms worth $10.3 million were exported from the Customs Department of northeastern city of Mashhad to 25 countries.
He noted that in other words, in this period, saffron exports from Mashhad’s customs accounted for 77 percent and 92 percent of the country’s total overseas sales of the same product in terms of weight and value, respectively.
The UAE was Iran’s biggest export destination, having imported 4,200 kilograms (34 percent of the total weight of the overseas sales) of saffron valued at $4.6 million (41 percent of total value), followed by Spain and Afghanistan, Fathi-Nasri added.
He regretted that, however, comparing last year’s export figures with the preceding 12-month period, indicates a sharp decrease in Iran’s overseas sales of saffron and the number of the destinations.
Fathi-Nasri said the heavy marketing and advertising costs are among the reasons for the decline, listing other factors as the obligation on exporters to inject their revenues into the domestic market, negative competition among emerging exporters, absence of Iran’s national saffron brand and those of the country’s other exporters from global markets and Washington’s unilateral sanctions on Tehran.
In May 2018, President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, (JCPOA) signed between Iran and the P5+1 in July 2015, and reimposed Washington’s unilateral sanctions on Tehran. Mainly targeting the country’s oil and banking sectors, the sanctions have made it difficult for Iranian exporters to send and receive money to and from other states.
Fathi-Nasri also blamed the drop in Iran’s saffron exports and number of its customers on the burdensome regulations, such as imposition of heavy taxes on unofficial exports of saffron packages weighing over 100 grams, and an increase in storing the product inside the country.
He expressed hope that by adopting measures to facilitate exports, the product will be purchased from Iranian farmers at a more reasonable price, which per se, will help increase the sustainability of saffron production in the country.
“Iran will fail to maintain its status as the world’s biggest saffron producer, giving its place to other states’ producers within the next 10 years, in case its farmers do not manage to generate favorable profits.”
He put Iran’s saffron output at 400 tons in the previous calendar year, saying in the year to March 2019, the country produced 330 tons of saffron and exported 280 tons of the product to become the world’s leading producer and exporter.
The northeastern Iranian provinces of North Khorasan, Khorasan Razavi and South Khorasan accounted for 90 percent of the country’s saffron output in the previous year, Fathi-Nasri added.
He noted that Iran’s saffron ranks first in the world in terms of quality, saying that over the past few years, a large number of Iranian provinces have begun producing saffron.
“Khorasan Razavi’s saffron output ranks first in the country in terms of quantity and quality. Close to 21,000 hectares of land are under saffron cultivation in Torbat-e Heydarieh, making the region the biggest producer in the country and the world.”
Expounding on the benefits of employing modern technologies for processing saffron, he said this allows for the creation of a higher added-value in the industry through producing and selling byproducts such as medicines, extracts and cosmetic items.
“In recent years, different domestic organizations, such as the University of Torbat-e Heydarieh and its Saffron Research institute, have developed training and promotional programs in the fields of producing and processing saffron which have helped improve cultivation systems and processing and drying methods. Iranian [saffron] farmers have set new records in terms of increasing the quantity and improving the quality of their products.”
He added that Torbat-e Heydarieh is transferring its knowledge in saffron production and processing to other provinces in which the crop is cultivated, such as Kerman (central Iran), Isfahan (central Iran) and Fars (southern Iran).
Fathi-Nasri said saffron is also grown in the provinces of Yazd (central Iran), Golestan (northern Iran), Hamedan (western Iran) and Kermanshah (western Iran).