International women’s day is celebrated globally on march 8th when once a year women are remembered for their role in family, workplace, business, entrepreneurship, politics, art, science, philanthropy and any other areas of life.
One of the important areas that has strong female base is agriculture and specifically saffron cultivation and exportation.
In this article we will look at the critical role of women in saffron market so next time you enjoy saffron in your drink or dessert, you will be reminded of the hardworking women who made it happen.
Saffron goes through a long process to reach the end customer as the famous spice:
Saffron cultivation is a long and laborious process where bulbs are planted every 4 to 7 years depending on the soil condition. There are several years of rest between the plantings. The land must be prepared beforehand with plowing, weeding and fertilizing.
Four people are needed to plant saffron because one person should dig a hole of 20 cm depth in every 15 cm, the second sorts 3-15 bulbs for the third person to put them in the hole until the fourth person covers it with soil and firm it down. Then it is irrigated.
Saffron is often a traditional family business where women are equally invested in the process as men of the family. They work hard alongside men to prepare the soil and plant saffron. They take care of the delicate sprout until it grows and the very first bloom shows up. They might not be university educated but they know saffron by heart and are expert in saffron cultivation.
Within a one month window from November to December, the plant blooms a beautiful purple flower that must be picked immediately before sunrise so delicate flower is not harmed by sun rays. They are taken inside where scarlet red stigmas are plucked carefully. Then they are processed to form a dry brittle spice that is the most expensive in the world. Drying process might be natural in open air or they might use specialty drying machines to speed up the process. Packaging, marketing and exportation are followed to deliver the spice to all over the world.
Women take care of the harvesting process more efficiently than men because they can be gentler with the delicate stigmas. Any damage to the stigma might result in lower sale price which is undesirable after all the hard work! They also know better how to dry the threads just enough to prevent burning and damage. Packaging is often done on the site in large volume so the spice can be taken to factories for branding in small containers for household use.
Marketing and sales starts even before the flowers are harvested. The orders are placed from both local and international customers to immediately receive the freshly produced spice.
Women are heavily involved in sales and marketing process to deliver saffron to every corner of this planet.
Traditionally it was done by trips to many countries around the globe but it has been replaced mostly with internet communication.
The long process of saffron production has always had women involved from the first planting to harvesting and export. Iran as the country that produces 90% of the global saffron has women at the heart of saffron cultivation. But in recent years women have taken the lead in transforming the cultivation methods to create organic saffron that has even been certified by UN food and agriculture organization (FAO).
This achievement was pioneered by university educated women that have been challenging the traditional methods by innovative approaches to consider human and environmental health and sustainability.
Through their knowledge enterprise saffron cultivation has been transformed to an eco-friendly process that does not uses hazardous chemical fertilizers and instead relies on healthy biological methods.
Not only they are creating massive jobs for local and seasonal workers and helping the saffron economy in Iran and the world, they are also educating the key knowledge to many people. They have even transformed the main saffron cultivating village in Khorasan province to a green zone!
Their approach toward exportation is also changing the game in the market. Instead of selling saffron in large volumes to countries such as Spain or UAE that have been rebranding Iranian saffron to their name, these women have revolutionized packaging to a world class level so they can deliver it directly to end users in other countries. They are essentially changing the saffron entrepreneurship forever.
Women, just like saffron flowers, are delicate creatures that are resilience in nature and can grow and succeed even in dry and tough conditions. Just like saffron that has health benefits; women are able to influence the health of society in terms of mental, physical, financial and economical health.
Traditional hard work of women in saffron production is extraordinary as they are the driving force behind cultivation, harvest, processing and packaging.
The innovative achievements of women in saffron market are remarkable but it is just the beginning. It can spread the environmental-friendly methods of cultivation to more areas so healthier organic products are available to all customers. The packaging revolution can also change the price to a reasonable level so everybody in the world can have easy access to magical health properties of this unique spice.
In celebration of the international women’s day, we remember critical role of the brave and hardworking women whose kind hands plant the saffron bulb, take care of them till they bloom, pick the flower before sunrise, pluck the stigma one by one, process them to create the dry spice and export them so everyone in the world can enjoy the exotic aroma, distinctive bittersweet flavor and beautiful golden yellow color of saffron.