A new law approved by the parliament requires farmers to get permits before they plant and sell any saffron, the colour of which has caused global controversy in recent years.
The legislation comes after a court ruled that growers in Morocco were illegally obtaining the spice, which they exported to China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Colombia, Bolivia, India and Sri Lanka.
A total of 3,200 farmers had been granted permits at more than 30 sites across Morocco, but only a handful were currently authorised to sell saffron, the ruling said.
The farmers have now been given a deadline: by 31 December, the legal deadline, they must show they have complied with the requirements.
If they do not, the law is expected to make it illegal to have saffron – or any other spice used for food, perfume and cosmetics – on sale in the country. And the fine for flouting the rules can reach 100,000 dirhams ($2,800).
Saif al-Omari, the minister of agriculture and livestock, said the bill would help protect Morocco’s agricultural industry in the face of foreign competition, arguing that “the main obstacle of producing saffron in Morocco is the excessive price it carries”.
“It costs about $4 for a kilogramme compared to $22 or $27 in countries like India and China,” he said. “So Morocco has to develop all the products it produces and then export to those countries with a more reasonable price.”
According to Oumar Kairouy, the head of the Federation of Moroccan Saffron Growers association, the ban is in line with EU law, which bans countries from importing spice with a low-value-added content. He explained that a key reason for the ban is to protect Morocco’s agricultural sector.
“If saffron is to be used, the producers must pay more. I don’t believe in this sort of thing, I prefer to sell something that is less expensive, like sugar or olive oil,” Kairouy told the Guardian.
But the law was met with resistance from the industry. “We have to accept this law because of the importance that Morocco plays,” said Ali Ayoubi, the secretary general of the Moroccan Saffron Association.
But he insisted Morocco was prepared for tougher legislation. “For us, it means that we will not be able to sell saffron in the future,” he said.
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