Iranians say saffron makes you laugh...that's probably because it acts as a potent drug, from which one can overdose and die, if too much is consumed. Saffron is one of Iran's top non-oil exports, next to pistachios, rugs, and caviar. The spice is considered the most precious in the world, rich not only in color and flavor, but also in price.
Each saffron flower contains three stigmas that are handpicked; imagine how labor-intensive this process can be. From March 2004-05, saffron farmers exported 172 tons of these dark burgundy saffron threads, bringing in about $94.9 million. Despite Iran contributing to 80% of global production, Spain dominates the saffron market. The European country only produces 12% of world supply, yet it holds the title for one of largest exporters of the spice. It's more appropriate, however, to refer to Spain as the largest re-exporter of saffron, considering it imports nearly half of Iran's total output, then repackages the spice under its own brand names and sells it to the world.
The biggest losers in the game are saffron farmers, with 600,000 quitting the trade and moving to more urbanized settings in search of work. Saffron profits continue to dwindle, as producers try to compete with re-exporters, minimal state assistance, outdated technology, surplus in supply, higher production costs, and other environmental factors. Inadequate packaging and weak international marketing have also served as obstacles to promoting Iranian saffron in the global arena.
The agricultural sector has plenty of potential in Iran, but it has often been neglected, in terms of production capacity and diversification. Many Iranians blame the government for paying insufficient attention to cost-cutting measures, such as new technology and expertise, while simultaneously trying to promote exports of non-oil goods.