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EghtesadOnline: A total of 206 tons of saffron worth $103.3 million were exported from Iran to 52 countries in the current fiscal year’s first nine months (March 21-Dec. 21), according to Rouhollah Latifi, spokesman of the Islamic Republic of Iran Customs Administration.

The official explained that 151 tons worth $75.98 million were exported in packages weighing over 30 grams (bulk), 34.81 tons worth $17.87 million in packages containing less than 10 grams of saffron and 20.02 tons worth $9.46 million in 10-30-gram packages, IRIB reported.

China with 69.3 tons worth $37.39 million, Spain with 29.6 tons worth $13.05 million and the UAE with 21.61 tons worth $10.54 million were the top three export destinations among 56 countries that bought packages weighing over 30 grams. 

For the under 10-gram packages, China with 10 tons worth $5.44 million, the UAE with 5 tons worth $2.73 and Spain with 4.82 tons worth $2.43 million were the main customers.

The UAE with 14.25 tons worth $6.8 million, China with 1.44 tons worth $795,540 and India with 1.18 tons worth $300,685 were the top five importers of Iranian saffron in packages containing 10-30 grams of the precious spice.

The export of saffron powder in packages containing less than 10 grams stood at 0.29 tons worth $347,566 and Sweden with 0.16 tons worth $203,321 was the main customer among the 14 export destinations.

The official added that a total of 0.16 tons worth $347,566 of saffron powder in 10-30-gram packages were exported to 12 countries during the period and Germany was the main export destination with 0.04 tons worth $50,625.

According to the IRICA spokesman, 424.43 tons of saffron worth $190.13 million were exported in the fiscal 2020-21 (ended March 20, 2021).

Khorasan Razavi Province accounted for 320 tons of the 431 tons of saffron produced in Iran last year. 

The city of Torbat-e Heydariyeh is considered the capital of saffron in the world with 100 tons of production during the fiscal 2020-21.

Over 90% of the world’s total saffron are produced in Iran, 80% of which are exported. However, the share of Iran in the global trade of saffron is disproportionately low, as many customers of the Iranian spice buy it in bulk and reexport after packaging it to third countries.

The Iranian saffron industry employs 200,000 people along the pre-harvest, harvest, post-harvest, processing, sorting and packaging chain. The livelihood of these people, farmers in particular, mainly depends on exports. 

Iran’s area under saffron cultivation exceeds 115,000 hectares, which is 20 times higher than the total land dedicated to growing saffron in the whole world. He said Iran is annually increasing the area by 5,000 hectares.

Besides Khorasan Razavi, North Khorasan, South Khorasan provinces – the main hub of saffron production in Iran – saffron is also cultivated in Chaharmahal-Bakhtiari and Khuzestan.

Per capita consumption of saffron in Iran has been put at 1 gram. Annually, 80 tons of saffron are consumed domestically. However, Gholamreza Miri, the deputy head of Iran National Saffron Council, says local demand for saffron has dropped by 70% following the outbreak of Covid-19 and the decline in wedding and funeral ceremonies, adding that saffron is no longer a priority in the food basket of Iranian households.

Saffron, the world's costliest spice by weight, is derived from the flower of Crocus sativus, commonly known as the "saffron crocus". The vivid crimson stigma and styles, called threads, are collected and dried for use mainly as a seasoning and coloring agent in food.

Saffron is widely used in Persian cuisine for its distinct aroma, color and taste.