0524 GMT March 18, 2019
The UAE and Spain are the prime suspects, reportedly importing what is globally known as 'red gold' from Iran and rebranding it for exports at much higher prices, Press TV reported.
"The UAE imports 50 tons of Iranian saffron annually, but it is interesting that export statistics show 100 tons of saffron leaving the country a year," observed Farhad Saharkhiz, a member of the presiding board of Iran's Saffron Exports Development Fund.
"Spain also imports 70 tons of saffron from Iran, but figures for its exports are quoted at 130 tons. This means they are selling something like a mixture of edible colors and saffron roots to the world in the name of the Iranian saffron," he added.
Traditional cultivation and harvest methods, as well as bulk sales, stand out as the drawbacks of the sector but middlemen and speculators are an additional burden.
Each gram of premium Iranian saffron can retail for $65. By comparison, a gram of gold at current rates is no more than $42. However, for Iranian producers, it barely pays for the labor.
Saffron cultivation and harvest is a painstaking process which requires 200,000 strands of crimson crocus blooms to be gingerly picked in the morning to make one kilo for sale.
Iran produces over 90 percent of the world's saffron, with the northeastern provinces of Khorasan Razavi and South Khorasan being the main cultivation areas of the spice. However, the country's share of the $1.5 billion business is less than $250 million.
Much of the crop produced by villagers are bought at knockdown prices by local arbiters who themselves sell it to foreign buyers in large stocks. This means the bulk of the added-value accrues to foreign intermediaries, while the genuine produce barely reaches the end consumer.