The Cütlük Saffron Project – Turkey

Turkey 10.10.2015 Ecosystem: Semi-Arid

The Protection of Saffron Gene Resources and the Improvement of Saffron Agriculture


Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) which is known as “Turkish Saffron” until the beginning of the 20th century, is one of the oldest and most expensive spices in the world. The project aimed to revive saffron cultivation which was almost forgotten till that time. The project is important in using saffron as a tool to combat desertification, as the saffron plant can be developed as an alternative to irrigation-based cotton monoculture. In order to enhance saffron cultivation in Turkey, the project started in Kuruyer Village, Çütlük field.

Revised Short Version: Using a Flower to Combat Desertification – The Çütlük Saffron Project (in pdf-format – 090914)

Background Story

Çütlük is located on the Harran Plateau in southeastern Turkey, borders with Syria and Iraq. Harran Plateau was home to different civilizations, empires and cultures from Hittites to the Ottomans. Çütlük is an area that belongs to Kuruyer Village and it is a field ready for cultivation. The climate in Çütlük is semi-arid and the vegetation type is desert-step., The distribution of agricultural production in In Kuruyer and Özlü Villages is %70 cotton, %20 wheat and %10 corn %90 of the agricultural fields in the villages have the irrigation capacity.


Map Sanliurfa Province

Saffron is a locally growing plant in the Çütlük village. Saffron cultivation requires careful work. The best conditions for saffron agriculture is temperate and tropical weather conditions where the soil is hardpan, a bit sandy and marl. Another importance of saffron is that, Saffron requires only 10% of the water used for cotton; which significantly reduces the soil erosion and prevents mineral nutrient loss,

TEMA Foundation together with Harran University developed the project in order to protect the saffron gene resources and to enhance the research institutes and public organizations to focus their studies on the saffron while improving the income of the villagers by saffron export.

The first Saffron flowers were harvested in October 2003. In 2005, 500 kg. Saffron seed is planted in 2 decares area. After the harvest of the matured saffron plant, 200 gr saffron flower is produced.

The project aimed to;

  • Enhance saffron cultivation for sustainable agriculture

  • Enhance saffron cultivation as an alternative product for small enterprises

  • Improve social, economic, employment and educational opportunities in the village

  • Create public opinion to attract Ministry of Agriculture to give incentives to the farmers who are willing to produce saffron.

  • Attract the universities, research institutes and other public organs to focus their studies on saffron agriculture.

  • Attract buyers for the crop

  • Contribute to make Turkey a Saffron exporter country


The main problem shortcoming in saffron agriculture in Turkey is the lack of researches conducted on saffron. People are not well-informed on the benefits of saffron and saffron agriculture. The main strategy in the project is to enhance saffron research and cultivation in Turkey.

Through the GAP (Southeastern Anatolia Irrigation Project) irrigation facilities increased in Harran plateu and based on this increase, cotton agriculture became widespread in the region. Cotton needs to be irrigated 7-8 times a year and because of the climate of the region, there is high vaporization which causes salinization, and the loss of labile minerals such as N (NO3+ NO4), P and S is increased by leaching. In order to avoid this, there is the necessity to produce other products which requires less water and have more economical value. Hence, saffron cultivation arised as an alternative to mono-culture cotton agriculture and the original gene resources of saffron were protected and saffron agriculture was enhanced through the project.

As the cotton is irrigated through the irrigation channels coming from the dams of GAP, mainly surface irrigation systems are used. However, as the salinization is an increasing threat for the soils and the government increased incentives on rainwaster harvesting, this method is also being used in the region.

  • Soil analysis was made in order to determine the characteristics of soil and cultivation methods were determined by the experts.
  • Villagers were informed about saffron cultivation techniques through trainings given by the experts.
  • Villagers were provided with saffron bulbs and they started to plant the seeds in October.
  • Saffron fields are protected through fences.
  • In order to protect the saffron bulbs, seed protection rooms are constructed within the project field.
  • Saffron bulbs are harvested and sold in the first weeks of the June.


  • In the past, saffron was locally growing in Urda conditions but due to climate change there is a decrease in the saffron productivity ( increasing temperature and decreasing humidty)

  • Farmers produce saffron bulbs as it is easier to grow up and there has been the problem of selling the excess saffron bulbs. However, as there is enough demand for the saffron bulbs, they have been easily marketed.

  • Purchasing is becoming a problem while establishing the saffron fields. Approximately 16-17 billion saffron bulbs are used in 1 da area.

  • Saffron bulbs can stand in the soil for 3-4 years; however in Urfa they have to be uprooted in Urfa in order not to be effected from fungus diseases and this increases the labor cost.


  • Community of Çütlük and the land owners
  • TEMA and national and regional Government departments

  • Harran University Agriculture Experts

  • Saffron market

  • The media / The public / Staff / other stakeholders

  • The public who responded positively to the project


  • The social, economic, employment and educational opportunities are improved by the project.

  • Soil Erosion and overmineralisation is reduced as the saffron requires 10% of the water used for cotton which is cultivated in the region for centuries Cotton requires 400-600 mm water and mainly irrigated 4-5 times in 15-20 days periods. Mainly surface irrigation technique is used and in the recent years rainwater harvesting is also being used. Saffron does not require much water and it grows better in dry weather conditions. So, %50-60r17 humidity is enough to produce saffron.

  • Agricultural income of the villagers increased 2-3 times through proper cultivation techniques;

  • A significant social development was achieved due to the support given by thecompany, the landowner changed payment to the farmers to equal shares;

  • Studies contributed to the awaraness raising of the mothers and the social statusof the women increased through these trainings;

  • The project was awarded the first prize in environment category in the International Public Relations Association (IPRA) 2005 Golden World Award and the “United Nations Special Prize”, Active Academy Corporate Social Responsibility Prize and Platin Magazine Social Responsibility Prize. Also, in the environmental research report of GFK Market Research Company, Saffron Project was chosen as one of the four most known environment project in Turkey.

  • Ministry of Agriculture provides education support to the region. However, the project is executed in Hilvan, Hepir Village by EU financing. Saffron is also produced in Viran village by their own finances. At the same time, saffron agriculture continues in Safranbolu by the support of Safranbolu administration.


By the project, farmers are well-informed about saffron agriculture techniques and gained the capacity to continue saffron cultivation in the future.

At the beginning of the project, saffron is produces in less than 5da area while today in around 15 da saffron is produced in Turkey. Saffron is produced in Hilvan Hepir Village and Viran village of Urfa and Safranbolu.


Yapı Kredi Emeklilik published the book “Saffron Flowers in Harran” in 2007.

Revised Short Version: Using a Flower to Combat Desertification – The Çütlük Saffron Project (in pdf-format – 090914)

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