AFGHANISTAN: Saffron in the Opium Fields
“An interesting result of the labor-intensive nature of opium production is its effect on the rural household economy, the division of labor and opportunities for Afghan women,” according to an IRIN report.
In Afghanistan’s traditional Islamic society, there are very few employment opportunities for women. Opium cultivation is one way for women in rural areas of the country to become economically independent.
Bibi Deendaray, 55, is a female farmer in the poppy fields of the Kandahar province of Afghanistan. She says the crop has saved her family, according to an UNDCO report.
“In fact, I should say it is not an illicit crop but rather a blessing, which saves the lives of my children, grandchildren, and two widowed daughters,” she said. “In general, it is the only means of survival for thousands of women-headed households, women and children in our village whose men are either jobless or were killed during the war.”
Women like Deendaray say that eradicating the crop will devastate women-headed households, while others argue that the effects of addiction on women are equally devastating.
Afghan farmers are the roots of this huge tree, so their decisions can make a difference. But as long they can earn more money and support their households cultivating opium, they don’t have incentives to cultivate other crops. Farmers say they worry that a new crop may not earn as much money as opium does.
Finding a solution to this problem would bring positive change to the whole nation. Media campaigns could be an effective way to reach farmers in rural areas Afghanistan, where people might not go to school but do watch TV or listen to the radio. Advertising could help raise awareness about the side affects of opium, and the long-term costs of relying on an illegal crop. But the strongest solution may be to find crops that can replace the income farmers are currently earning.
Abdul Samad, a farmer in the Herat province, says that he earns more cultivating saffron than he did with opium, according to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, nonprofit organization that operations in London and Washington, D.C. “With poppy, I got between US $400 and $600 for each jerib (half acre) of land,” he says. “Now I make more than US $5,000.”
Saffron is a crop with a very high demand and high price in the world market. In addition to being a valuable crop, saffron is also morally accepted by society and by Islamic law, and is legally accepted by Afghanistan’s government. It is valued for it is color and taste, and is mostly used as a cooking spice, and in some regions it is used in tea.
Like opium, Saffron is also labor intensive. If saffron cultivation develops, a woman may find opportunities to work and earn as much, if not more, than they could earn in the poppy fields. Saffron may be the only medicine that can cure widespread addiction in Afghanistan.