Mohammad Ismail Dowlatizai, director of agriculture for Afghanistan’s Laghman province, speaks to local farmers and provincial representatives about the benefits of growing saffron.
LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Oct. 2, 2009 – The Kansas National Guard agribusiness development team here, along with local and provincial officials, participated in a ceremony to introduce a profitable crop to area farmers at the Laghman Agricultural Research and Development Center in Mehtar Lam district, Sept. 29.
Saffron, a type of crocus, is deep orange in color and typically is ground up and used as a cooking spice or food colorant.
Mohammad Ismail Dowlatzai, the province’s agriculture director, expressed gratitude for the introduction of a new crop and thanked the team and Massood Sayeed, an associate professor from Kabul University, for their efforts.
“This is a great day for Laghmanis, and I hope this will bring prosperity for our people,” he said.
Army Lt. Col. Roger Beekman of the agribusiness development team said the people of Laghman will benefit greatly from the introduction of the saffron.
“This is a monumental occasion for Laghmanis, and it all starts right here,” he said. “We are growing Laghman’s future one seed at a time.”
Sayeed planted the first corm – an underground stem base that stores food over the winter and produces new foliage in the spring. He said saffron had been introduced in other parts of Afghanistan such as Herat, but that it’s a new crop in Laghman.
Team officials expressed high hopes for saffron’s success in Laghman, noting that the province is in a fertile valley known for producing some of the finest crops in Afghanistan.
Sayeed said many local farmers have expressed interest in the growing saffron, and that he’s working to form an association to help in marketing and building knowledge about the crop. The initiative is promising, he added, because saffron is considered more valuable than poppies and it is relatively easy to grow. It requires little water, a positive characteristic considering Afghanistan’s often drought-like conditions.
“This location is to test the saffron to see if it will grow here,” Sayeed said at the introduction ceremony. “The first harvest should be ready in about 40 days, and we hope to be able to have daughter corms for next season produced from this crop.”
Teams of National Guardsmen from a dozen farm-belt states are serving year-long tours in Afghanistan to help in jump-starting the country’s agricultural economy and give farmers alternatives to growing opium poppy for the illegal drug trade. The Guardsmen bring specialized skills in farming, raising livestock and cultivating natural resources.