Focus has switched to niche and value-added products
Saffron is a medicinal herb and a spice used to enhance taste and lend colour to dishes. Harvested from the crocus, the stigma at the centre of the plant is extracted and dried to become saffron.
The production of saffron is a labour intensive and time-consuming task that's as old as the hills around the village of Krokos near Kozani in Greek Macedonia.
However, the evolution of saffron production is part of a pattern replicated in other sectors of the Greek agriculture such as cotton and olive oil. Where traditionally the emphasis has been on bulk export, now the focus is firmly on developing quality, value-added products.
The Co-operative of Saffron Producers of Kozani was established in 1971 and according to its director, Patsiouras Nikolaos, it has 1,080 members spread across 10 villages.
"The cultivation of saffron covers 1,000ha and employs around 5,000 people," he maintains.
The annual national production looks tiny, at just six to 12 tons depending on the weather. However, as Mr Nikolaos points out, it takes 150,000 plants to produce 1kg of saffron.
All is done by hand, the planting, harvesting separation and drying.
"Up to 15 years ago Greek saffron was unknown as it was sold in bulk to traders," Mr Nikolaus explains.