Saffron Spices Up Kosovo Agriculture

Saffron Made in Kosovo - Thanks to USAID assistance
Saffron is a high-value crop that is ideally suited for Kosovo’s climate, soil, altitude and smallhold farmers. USAID is helping them to grow, brand and market saffron to increase agricultural production and rural income.
Xheraldina Cernobregu
Growers look to lucrative foreign markets
“It’s very difficult work. It’s all done by hand.”

Agriculture is Kosovo’s biggest industry, but the economic growth of the sector is constrained by a lack of equipment, a limited variety of crops, outdated methods of production, and smallhold farms. To overcome those challenges, USAID is introducing new crop varieties and supporting farmers in production, branding and marketing.

Because of assistance from USAID and other international donors, Kosovo has resumed production of one of the most celebrated commodities from its rich agricultural past—saffron. An intense red color, sweet aroma and pungent flavor combine to make saffron a spice like no other. Saffron’s cost is unmatched by any other spice; a single gram retails for 10 Euros or more.

USAID’s New Opportunities for Agriculture Program, which started in January 2011, supported seven growers in purchasing bulbs from the Netherlands, as well as with packaging and branding in late 2012. USAID also sponsored a promotional event at Pristina’s Swiss Diamond Hotel on Dec. 19, 2012, to introduce Kosovo’s saffron producers to local restaurateurs, grocers and consumers.

Local growers such as Arber Berisha are looking beyond the local market, toward lucrative foreign markets. In the last two years, Berisha has planted 150,000 saffron crocus flowers across a half-hectare plot outside of Rahovec/Orahovac. He expects to produce about 400 grams of saffron this year. Though he is working with a French partner, Berisha acknowledges he must expand output to secure foreign buyers. It’s just one of the challenges faced by growers of such a lucrative but labor-intensive product.

“It’s very difficult work,” Berisha says. “It’s all done by hand.”

Testing confirms Kosovo saffron exceeds international first-class standards for taste, color and aroma. Saffron also is ideally suited to the country’s soil, climate, altitude and smallhold farms, making it a crop with great potential for increasing agricultural output and rural income.

The four-year New Opportunities for Agriculture program is helping Kosovo’s agriculture sector to create market linkages, increase and diversify agricultural products, improve food quality, and increase affordable and accessible credit. The activity also provides small grants to farmers, agricultural enterprises and associations.