Iran is the saffron production capital of the world, with a harvesting tradition that dates back over 3,000 years. Today, the country continues to produce more than 90% of this highly sought-after commodity, used in food, cosmetics, and traditional medicine.
But international sanctions placed on Iran over the country’s nuclear program has caused its saffron business to take a major hit, CNN reports. Iranian companies and banks have been blocked from the global financial system, cutting off their access to markets in Europe, the United States, and Canada.
Because they can’t use banks, Iranian companies have had to find ways around the system. “We have to go through private messengers, who are expensive, and deal directly with customers and trust they will pay us. Sometimes they cheat,” Saffron Rowhani CEO Mehrdad Rowhani told CNN. Other companies have been bartering with overseas buyers, accepting food and consumer goods in exchange for saffron.
Iran’s saffron sales continue to soldier on despite these roadblocks. By expanding to new markets across the Middle East, Rowhani has managed to maintain monthly exports. Another saffron production company, Iran Hassos Ltd., was able to sustain a turnover level similar to pre-sanction rates, despite missing out on $7 million a year in sales to the U.K. In 2014, Iranian saffron exports rose by 36% and the price per kilo rose to $2,000, according to the National Saffron Council.
CNN predicts that once sanctions are lifted, Iranian companies will be rewarded with skyrocketing demand resulting in greatly increased prices.