Saffron: Morocco’s mystic spice

The small town of Taliouine in southern Morocco is home to the country's largest saffron fields. In many countries saffron is revered as a mystical spice with religious connotations. Despite being known as one of the world's most expensive spices, farmers earn only a small profit from huge sales around the world. The production of one single kilogram of saffron comes from 150,000 flowers. The delicate task for separating the stamen from the flower is predominantly done by women. Depending on the quality and quantity of saffron one gram can cost on average US$6.28. For centuries saffron has been cultivated in the region and valued for its rich flavor as well as healing qualities. The yellow spice is also used as a coloring agent to enhance fabric and food. Unique purple flowers cover the southern Moroccan fields which produce the stamens from where saffron is derived. Efforts are being made in Taliouine to ensure farmers get their fair share of the proceeds for cultivating the spice. Moroccan authorities are encouraging farmers to plant further saffron crocus flowers to increase the local economy through escalating exports which will bring extra profit back into the North African country. The local branch of the Department of Agriculture created the initiative to offer support to thousands of farmers. Free seeds, water and advice were provided to help farmers produce more. Ishmael El-Hamdi said the saffron grown in this area is highly rated because the soil and climate combine to create a flavorsome breed. "We have set up a number of co-operatives, which have been brought together under the umbrella terms of 'shared economic benefit'. The idea is to avoid speculation and intermediaries and improve farmers' financial returns," El-Hamdi said. By: Nadia Idriss Mayen Al Arabiya with Agencies