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HERAT, Oct. 6 — Demand for saffron bulbs has remained strong in Herat this year as farmers seek alternative ways to earn an income other than from growing poppy.
The Italian Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Herat distributed 18 tonnes of saffron bulbs to farmers in 14 districts of the province.
Growing saffron has a number of advantages. One is that it does not compete with other crops for labour and water; bulbs are planted in late August and harvested in late October, outside the normal crop-growing season between March and August.
Saffron also offers a substantial income. One hectare of land can produce about 12 kilograms. Each kilogram fetches about $1,500 [USD] in Herat's main bazaar, according to officials at the Department of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock. High quality, packaged saffron can bring in many times that sum.
In November 2006, in order to assist Afghan farmers in successfully growing saffron, a National Saffron Co-ordination and Support Committee (NSCSC) was set up by the Ministry of Agriculture.
Ajmal is one of the farmers who received bulbs from the Italian PRT. He has been growing saffron instead of poppy for the past two years and said the quality of his life has improved enormously. Previously, he was in debt and his son was an opium addict. Now, he earns a decent income, sends all seven of his children to school and has helped wean his son off the drug. "I have never seen so much money in my life!" Ajmal said.
If income from saffron is close to that earned from poppy growth, Afghanistan’s farmers could help move the nation’s economy in a new direction and abandon its role in producing addictive drugs.