South Africa’s debut saffron harvest have yielded surprising rewards as the season surpassed initial expectations.
South Africa has embarked on its very first saffron harvest. The flower, which is coveted for its high retail price, is known to farmers as “pure gold” thanks to its high value.
According to Bennie Engelbrecht, founder and director of Saffricon, 2kg of saffron have been harvested. This is being prepared for sale to markets in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) this year.
“That is the total harvest from our three current outgrowers – one in Laingsburg and two in Pretoria, all of whom have yielded more flowers than initially expected in year one,” he confirms.
About 150 000 flowers are needed to deliver 1kg of saffron. The yield per hectare in year three, when production reaches peak, can therefore vary between 1kg to 5kg.
The saffron market is still in trial phase and in the early stages of development, and therefore not yet able to contribute to the GDP. However, if market growth continues in this vein, the crop may soon be a valuable contributor.
Saffricon’s opportunity for franchising
Saffricon offers an advanced outgrowers programme as well as a franchising option to farmers. The franchise farmers buy bulbs – called corms – from Saffricon and sell their harvest back to them. There are trial growers in all nine provinces and the starter pack is to do a trial first to see if saffron will grow in their areas or not.
Once franchise contracts are in place in 2022, outgrowers will be paid according to the grade of their crop. Local saffron farmers can expect to receive between R75 000 and R150 000/kg from Saffricon for their produce, depending on the ISO quality.
“The saffron is graded according to the International Organisation for Standardisation’s ISO3632 classification on saffron. The initial indications are that Saffricon’s saffron is of a very high quality and should fetch a good price on the international market,” reveals Engelbrecht.
High return on investment
Saffron, known as “red gold” or even “agri gold” in some parts, is the most expensive spice in the world. This is due to the number of flowers needed per kilogram and the labour-intensive methods used for harvesting.
While the setup costs are relatively expensive, the return on investment is said to be better than most crops in Mzansi.
It requires less water than conventional crops. It can also grow in a variety of conditions that are unfavourable to traditional crops. Because it is so labour-intensive, it also provides ample employment opportunities.
Saffron is a winter crop and its corms, which are usually planted between March and April, multiply underground under favourable conditions. Interestingly, corms are able to survive winter and are frost-resistant. They are also able to withstand other adverse conditions such as summer, drought and heat.
The demand for the spice currently far exceeds the supply, but should there ever be a glut on the market, the crop can also be used for other things like textile dye, a natural cosmetic and for medicinal purposes.
As a non-traditional crop, saffron serves a niche market and has a high demand in the international food industry. This creates export opportunities and with the favourable exchange rates currently prevailing, sale of the crop suggests large profit margins.
Sign up for Mzansi Today: Your daily take on the news and happenings from the agriculture value chain.