Saffron is the world’s most expensive spice, but among the women of Ghoryan province in the war-torn Afghanistan, it is changing lives.
Following decades of conflict, an estimated two million Afghan women have been left widowed and unable to support themselves or their children.
Desperate for money and support but with very few options, these women often find themselves working in Taliban-controlled opium poppy fields which not only exploit these women, but are also illegally run.
The Ghoryan Women’s Saffron Association was borne out of this desperation, providing Afghan women and widowers a chance to work and earn a proper living.
Founded in 2009 by local businesswoman Sima Ghoryani, the GWSA offers 600 widows a lifeline by harvesting saffron.
A water-light crop, saffron is exceptionally good for the Afghan farmland, as the majority of the nation’s soil has been left depleted by opium poppies.
Consumers use saffron for medicine, in foodstuff and cooking, and as a remedy for many ailments. Currently, the price of a kilogram of Afghanistan’s saffron in the global markets is around $2,000.
The Government of Afghanistan and international community have been trying for some years to increase saffron production as well as raise awareness of its benefits. This is aimed at discouraging farmers from poppy cultivation and reducing poppy in the country. According to the United Nations Office for Drug and Crime, Afghanistan is among the top poppy producers in the world.
Initiatives such as the GWSA allow local farmers and disadvantaged people a chance to earn a living and also to restore the land, enhance economic mobilization and activities, and reduce the production of poppies which are often traded on the black market at the expense of the farmers.
Cultivation and production of saffron creates numerous job opportunities, especially for women who perform 80 percent of the activities including harvesting, refining, and packaging.
In Afghanistan, female access to financial services like bank accounts or loans is around 1 percent, and in the agricultural sector, until very recently, it was practically zero.
Because of the GWSA and initiatives such as the Agricultural Development Fund, Afghan women can now rebuild their lives and support themselves and their families through just work.
Women such as Afarin, 29, who lost her husband in 2007 says that organizations such as GWSA has been a lifeline to her and others:
“Without the association, my children would be hungry,” she says. “Now my life is better…When I look at this field of flowers, I smile.”
Saffron is now not only repairing the land of Afghanistan, but also repairing and restoring the lives of its women.
For more information about the Ghoryan Women’s Saffron Association, visit their website.