Saffron as a Substitute for Opium

February 22, 2010

Saffron, the world's most valuable spice, allows farmers in Afghanistan to build up a new livelihood.


In the Autumn of 2008, Shelter Now began a project that involved cultivating saffron. Farmers from the province of Herat were given saffron bulbs, fertilizer and instruction on how to produce the spice. They were not required to pay any money, agreeing instead to give one quarter of their saffron harvest to Shelter Now for the first four years. After five years, the bulbs will have increased four to five-fold. The farmers will then dig them up and give half to Shelter Now; these bulbs will in turn be used to begin new projects with others. The farmers get to keep the other half for themselves, and can plant the bulbs in new fields, thus a new saffron cycle will begin. After that they will be able to keep 100% of their harvest, and will earn more from it than they would have done through illegal opium farming.


This is in principle a microloan project which promises to be very sustainable.


The farmers are free to sell the saffron by themselves, but will also receive support from Shelter Now if they require it. Producers currently receive around 2500 US dollars for one kilogram (2.2lbs) of saffron.


The price for consumers is around eight to ten euros (10 to 14 USD) per gram (0.035 oz) Saffron is extracted from the flower of a crocus plant called the “Crocus sativus”. When the plant begins to blossom in the fall, it is time for the harvest. The buds have to be picked early in the morning before the petals open and the wind blows dust from the soil into the flowers. In a painstaking process, the stigmas are plucked out of the flowers by hand. These are the saffron, which then have to be dried and packed. The whole process requires great care and everything has to be kept clean to obtain good quality saffron. Up to 160,000 buds have to be processed to obtain one kilogram (2.2lbs) of saffron. We are expecting to receive our share of the new harvest from March 2010. We will let you know where you can order some.


All proceeds will be plowed back into the project. Development of the saffron project (starting surface area per farmer: approx. 2000 m2):

  • Year of planting: 2008 surface: 2.2 hectares (5.4 acres) ---9 farmers

  • Year of planting: 2014---surface: 13 hectares (32 acres) ---33 farmers

  • Year of planting: 2020---surface: 65 hectares (161 acres) ---162 farmers


A Saffron Recipe


Beef steaks in bitter orange mustard marinade

Fennel in saffron sauce

Grilled tomatoes

Pureed potato

(Serves four)


Beef steaks:
  • Four good-quality tender beef steaks, not too thick 50 ml

  • (2 fl oz) oil for frying

  • 40g (1½ oz) Bitter orange mustard*

  • 1 heaped tsp. of coriander, freshly ground

  • 12 grains of green cardamom, freshly ground

Mix all the ingredients well and marinate the steaks in the mixture for at least three hours, then fry the meat and salt.


*If you are unable to find orange mustard, boil up bitter orange marmelade, vinegar, salt and ground brown mustard seeds, pour into jars and allow to stand for several weeks.


Saffron fennel:
  • 30g (1oz) Clarified butter

  • 450g (1lb) Fennel

  • 200g (7oz) Cream

  • 0.25g (i.e. just a small pinch) Saffron

  • Salt

Cut the fennel into four pieces and then slice into fine strips (approx. 2mm or ⅛ inch). Fry them in a wide pan with a lid until they are "al dente". Meanwhile bring the cream to a boil and reduce slightly. Add the crushed saffron and salt and then pour it over the fennel. Cover and place in the oven on about 75 °C (165°F) for a few minutes. If the fennel is still firm, raise the temperature a little (but don't allow it to boil).


Prepare the grilled tomatoes and potato puree as normal.


Bon appetit!


Please reload

Featured Posts

Fruit for the Yezidi Children

December 17, 2018

Please reload

Recent Posts
Please reload

Please reload

Search By Tags