The saffron farming system based on Qanat irrigation in the Iranian city of Gonabad, Khorosan Razavi province, has won the recognition of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as ‘agricultural cultural heritage’.
Gonabad’s traditional irrigation system is now registered as the 55th system of agricultural heritage by FAO.
The site located in Iran’s central plateau features a unique way to produce nutritious foods and spices using traditional knowledge and skills while improving local people’s livelihoods and preserving biodiversity, a report by FAO says.
Gonabad’s saffron farms are now designated as cultural heritage based on a number of criteria, including, global importance, value as a public good in terms of supporting food and livelihood security, agro-biodiversity, knowledge systems, adapted technologies, cultures, and outstanding landscapes.
Gonabad is located in Iran’s central plateau that has an arid and semi-arid climate. Severe water shortages in the area pose major threats to food security and livelihoods of local communities.
However, proper use of water resources supplied by the Qanat (or aquaduct) irrigation system and production of high value-added products, especially saffron, have created a unique opportunity for farmers and residents of the region to improve their livelihoods.
Saffron does not require large quantities of water compared to cereals, which has resulted in allocation of more areas for the cultivation of this invaluable crop making it a major source of income for many farmer households. Today it plays a key role in creating job opportunities, reducing migration, providing sustainable livelihoods, improving efficiency in water use and productivity as well as developing eco-tourism in the area.
It is the third time that a site in Iran is added to the global agricultural heritage systems list. FAO’s global agricultural heritage network now consists of 57 remarkable landscapes in 21 countries around the globe.
Iran is the world’s biggest saffron producer and accounts for more than 90% of the global production. The product is offered in over 60 foreign markets. Close to 95% of Iranian saffron are grown in the two provinces of South Khorasan and Khorasan Razavi in northeastern Iran.