FAO in Afghanistan

A female-owned saffron business leads the market in Herat


Story of an Afghan woman creating job opportunities to other women to improve their livelihoods


“I believe that nothing is impossible in this world. Everything is difficult before it’s easy; however, once we start, we can move forward very fast,” says Karima Sadiqi, the owner of a saffron production company in Herat Province of Afghanistan. Despite the challenges and problems, she faces in the community as a woman entrepreneur, she strongly believes that the problems mean greater opportunities to improve the lives of Afghan women in the country.


Karima always wanted to be an independent woman and have her own identity and income to address her needs. However, as a woman living in a conservative society in Afghanistan, it was not easy for her to convince the family to begin her own business. She struggled but continued until she finally succeeded.


Karima started a small saffron processing center with few women in Herat. After working as a saffron producer for three years and learning more about the saffron business, she decided to register her business—Karwan Saffron—and started competing with other saffron production companies in the local market. As a new businesswoman, it was extremely hard for her to compete in a male-dominated market since she was not very familiar with market linkages and branding of the products.


Her business began to grow


Karima’s real journey started when she first attended a 14-day training course in Herat organized by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) -funded Promoting Value-Chain – West (PVCW) project, implemented by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).  The training covered business plan writing, saffron cultivation and pest management, saffron processing, packaging and branding, and marketing.  The knowledge gained from this training proved to be highly beneficial for her to improve the processing and branding of her products. Also, through FAO’s facilitation, she attended different national and international exhibitions that both exposed her products to international buyers and increased her understanding of international market requirements. Karima now exports saffron to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India, Ukraine, and Australia.


“I am getting more and more interested in this field, because I believe that saffron is an important high-value crop not only in Afghanistan, but across the globe. Through the sale of this product, I cannot only make money, but also show a positive face of Afghanistan to the world,” says Karima with pride and confidence.


The PVCW project helped her to enhance the productivity of her company. In 2018, she harvested 28 kilograms of saffron from 40 acres of land, whereas in 2019, production increased to 50 kilograms of saffron from the same land. She has also improved the quality of saffron, and her company now sells a kilogram of saffron at AFN 82 000 (around USD 1,000), nearly 17 percent more than she previously sold.


The increase in production and sales has motivated Karima to expand her business. She plans to have additional land to cultivate saffron and take advantage of the huge demand for saffron to target more national and global customers.  Compared to the current demand, the level of production is still very low, and I am seeking every opportunity to expand my production”, explains Karima.


Karima is also trying to improve her business skills. She is currently studying Business Administration in Herat University, while proudly running her own saffron production company.


Supporting women to improve their livelihoods and enhance their social status


When it comes to employment opportunities, women get fewer chances in Afghanistan, mainly due to cultural restrictions and existing perceptions that women are not capable to work outside their houses. Karima is fighting against these prejudices by working and creating jobs for other women. She currently employs 28 women that are mainly engaged in processing, packaging, and administrative works.  "I want to create more jobs for women, specifically for those, who are the only bread winners in their families”, says Karima. “On one hand, this job helps them earn some income and enhance their livelihoods, and on the other hand, it improves their social status,” she adds.


 “Thanks to the generous support from USAID, PVCW has been very successful in supporting the Afghan entrepreneurs to introduce Afghanistan’s high-value products to the global market. The project not only generates income and creates more jobs, but it also largely helps empower the women. We hope that we can continue this effort in the future as well,” says Rajendra Aryal, FAO Representative in Afghanistan.


PVCW is funded by USAID and implemented by the United Nations FAO in western Afghanistan. The project promotes inclusive growth and job creation in the agriculture sector by improving the capabilities of producers and private enterprises. PVCW focuses mainly on increasing the productivity of high-value crops, supports the use of better technology, and works with businesses to improve their processing techniques, quality control, and marketing. The project also links Afghan farmers and entrepreneurs to domestic and international markets.