Afghanistan’s red gold ‘saffron’ termed world’s best

Workers harvest saffron flowers in a field in Herat province, Afghanistan. (AFP)
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Updated 22 December 2019

Afghanistan’s red gold ‘saffron’ termed world’s best

  • Afghan farmers who previously grew poppies, raw material for opium and heroin, now cultivate saffron

KABUL: For decades Afghanistan has earned worldwide notoriety for its production of drugs. However, in recent years, local farmers have turned to the cultivation of saffron, a far more lucrative crop that has been recognized as the best globally for eight successive years, officials said on Saturday.

The war-ravaged country last year produced more than eight metric tons of the plant, described by some analysts as “red gold.” One kilogram of saffron sells locally for at least $1,200 and in world markets it can even be traded for $4,000, officials said, while the price of opium can fetch far less, apart from being an illegitimate trade.

The saffron cultivated and produced in Afghanistan has been recognized as the best in the world in quality for the eighth consecutive year, a member of the Saffron Producers Union in Kabul told a news conference.

“Every year, there is an improvement in saffron cultivation and production, and this improves the quality of our saffron,” said Bashir Ahmad Rashidi, head of the union.

According to the union, the quality and taste of the Afghan saffron were evaluated at an institution in Belgium and the local saffron’s color and taste made it the best worldwide.

Iran and India have been among the top producers of saffron while Afghanistan with its 6.3 percent output holds third position, Akbar Rustami, spokesman for the ministry of agriculture, told Arab News.

“We are talking about tens of millions of dollars of income for farmers, growers and a big boost for the economy of the country,” he said.

Shafi Samim, an economic expert, said: “Afghanistan’s saffron has earned global fame, it is called “red gold” and has become one of the country’s top items of exports.”

He said that 23 out of 34 provinces in Afghanistan that had grown poppies, the raw material for opium and heroin, now cultivate saffron, with Herat being in the vanguard of production.

Abdul Saboor Rahmani, head of the agriculture department of Herat, told Arab News that the province produced seven tons of saffron last year.

“More and more farmers now grow saffron, because its financially beneficial and is not haram like drugs.”

Hajji Ibrahim, a saffron dealer in Herat, said that people in some areas of only one of the 15 districts of Herat now grow opium while the rest cultivate saffron both because of its income and due to Islam, which has forbidden drugs.

“Saffron has given Afghanistan a good name in world markets; farmers in many parts of Afghanistan now have turned to it,” he told Arab News.

The private sector has played a major role in the production of the lucrative plant, which has found its way into markets such as Europe and Saudi Arabia, officials said.

Apart from its saffron, Afghanistan’s fruits and nuts, especially pine nuts, have in recent years made it to global markets, providing hundreds of millions of dollars for the country.

Last month it struck a deal with China to export thousands of pine nuts as part of a multibillion-dollar agreement.


Indonesia keeps Bali closed to foreign tourists

Updated 14 August 2020

Indonesia keeps Bali closed to foreign tourists

  • As foreign visitors remain barred from entering the country, government plans to boost domestic tourism to keep hospitality sector afloat
  • COVID-19 has shattered Indonesia’s target to welcome 17 million foreign visitors this year, dealing a major blow to national revenue

JAKARTA: Indonesia will remain closed to foreign tourists at least until the end of the year, a senior minister announced during a meeting with the country’s business community on Thursday. 
As Indonesia still grapples with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Pandjaitan said that all non-essential foreign visitors will remain barred from entering the country, while the government will try to boost domestic tourism to keep the hospitality sector afloat. 
“With regard to foreign tourists, I think we will not be welcoming them until the end of the year,” Pandjaitan said during the virtual forum with Indonesian businesspeople, shelving a plan laid out by the provincial government of the holiday island of Bali — Indonesia’s most popular tourist destination — to reopen for international visitors on Sept. 11. 
Pandjaitan’s remarks also ended speculation as to whether the central government would revoke a regulation issued by the justice minister in late March banning foreigners — except those arriving for essential, diplomatic and official purposes — from entering Indonesia amid ongoing efforts to contain the virus outbreak. 
Bali authorities were hoping for the regulation to be revoked ahead of the island’s plan to reopen to foreigners.  
Ida Bagus Agung Partha Adnyana, head of the Bali Tourism Board, said industry players in Bali were ready for the Sept. 11 plan but acknowledged that the central government’s decision to keep foreign arrivals suspended “must be based on a more urgent reason.” 
“There could be a macro outlook behind Jakarta’s decision, and it could be for everyone’s greater good,” Adnyana told Arab News. 
According to Pandjaitan, Indonesian authorities will focus on promoting domestic tourism as Indonesians who were planning to go for holidays abroad, including those who were set to travel for Umrah, will be unable to do so this year so due to international travel restrictions.  
“There is plenty of money around. No one is going on the Umrah pilgrimage, and those who used to go to Singapore or Penang for medical treatment are not going anywhere either. These are people with money to spend, and we estimated there could be tens of trillions of rupiahs. We want them to spend the money here,” Pandjaitan said. 
According to Umrah tour operators, about 1 million Indonesians travel to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage each year, with many of them also visiting other sites in the region. 
The COVID-19 outbreak has shattered Indonesia’s target to welcome 17 million foreign visitors this year, dealing a major blow to its national revenue. 
According to Adnyana, tourism in Bali alone contributed 120 trillion to 150 trillion rupiahs ($10 billion) a year to the country’s coffers. 
He also expressed concerns that the pandemic may still affect the government’s plans to revive the industry through domestic tourism as many potential travelers may be unable to make trips to other parts of the country amid concerns of contracting the disease and internal restrictions imposed as part of the response to contain the virus.

On Friday, President Joko Widodo said in his 2021 budget speech before the parliament that 14.4 trillion rupiahs would be allocated for the tourism industry’s recovery with a focus on developing several main destinations: Lake Toba in North Sumatra; Borobudur Temple in Central Java; Mandalika in Lombok island; Labuan Bajo on the Flores island, which serves as a gateway to see the Komodo dragon on Komodo Island and Mount Kelimutu, which has three volcanic crater lakes of different colors; and Likupang Beach in North Sulawesi.