Saffron crocus plantings on a farm in the Northern Cape. Source: Saffricon
  • A Northern Cape farmer has tested saffron production in South Africa over recent years, which he believes could yield local producers R200,000 per kilogram.  
  • But it takes some 150,000 crocus sativus flowers to yield one kilogram,  Netwerk24 reports
  • Production is labour intensive, but the flowers are frost resistant and don't need that much water.
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Saffron, the world's most expensive spice, could flourish in South Africa, and one local farmer believes it can yield producers up to R200,000kg.

But it's a painstaking, labour-intensive crop - the stigma of the crocus sativus flower must be carefully removed, and each flower produces only three threads (stigmas) of saffron.

It takes some 150,000 flowers to yield one kilogram of saffron, Corne Liebenberg of agriculture company Laeveld Agrochem told Netwerk24

One local farmer is excited about the crop's prospects, though.

After years of research Bennie Engelbrecht, managing director of Saffricon, started to test the crop four years ago on a farm between Williston and Calvinia in the Northern Cape

The first crops were of excellent quality - judged by smell and flavour - compared to the imported product in the local market, he claims. Interest for his crops came from as far as Bahrain, says Engelbrecht, who believes that South African farmers will see strong demand for their supplies.

The global saffron market is dominated by Iran, and demand far exceeds supplies for the spice, which has distinctive properties to flavour and colour food. It is also used in other products, like medicines, dyes and cigarettes.

Engelbrecht says that farmers can expect prices of up to R200,000/kg for saffron. His company is now making saffron bulbs available for around R450,000 for 150,000 of these so-called corms, which should cover a quarter hectare, as part of growing contracts. 

Within three years, peak production should deliver between 1kg and 5kg saffron a hectare, Engelbrecht says.

While the sterile flowers are delicate, they only need 250mm to 300m in irrigation, are frost resistant and can withstand temperatures of minus 15 degrees Celsius. .

Engelbrecht believes the plants are best suited to the Karoo, but Saffricon is currently testing in KwaZulu-Natal and elsewhere as well. 

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