Tahmina Ghaffer started Moonflowers in 2020 as a homage to Afghanistan. Moonflowers is a premium saffron company. Her brand was inspired by Middle Eastern poetry, architecture, and her ancestors; her mission is to bring dignified work to women in Afghanistan. She works exclusively with women in the Herat province of Afghanistan to harvest this delicate crop; for just one pound of saffron, over 50,000 flowers are harvested.
I recently spoke to Ghaffer, a refugee herself, about the future of her company in a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Here is the full interview.
Tahmina, what was the inspiration for starting Moonflowers?
The inspiration behind Moonflowers is empowering women in Afghanistan. The saffron industry has been growing and Afghanistan has been producing premium quality saffron. The workforce behind this beautiful spice are Afghan women who handpick the saffron flowers during harvest season in October/November. Most women in rural areas have no access to the labor market and being able to work and earn their own income is meaningful empowerment. As the industry was growing, the jobs were developing as well. There was more need for jobs in quality control, saffron seasonal laborers employment agencies, and there’s even a female saffron women growers association.
Saffron has been a national movement, uniting farmers in support of growing saffron as opposed to growing poppy [harvested for opium]. Poppy was a means of survival— farmers are proud to grow saffron, the spice of life, which also happens to be as lucrative.
Tell me more about your background.
My family decided to leave Afghanistan when I was five, just before the civil war in the 90s. We became refugees and settled in the Netherlands, where I grew up and completed my degree in International Law. My motivation has always been giving back to people in need and contributing to justice. Ultimately, this has led me to this journey to start a saffron business. I wanted to be part of the saffron movement in Afghanistan, and through that, contribute to empowering women in Afghanistan. Afghan women have been through a lot, we are very resilient and I think it’s important to shed light on that by offering this premium quality spice that not only flavors food but has health benefits as well.
Harvesting of saffron is a delicate process and farmers prefer women to harvest it. Most farmers now aren’t sure whether they will allow women to work on the field at all.
What gap did you see in the market, and how is Moonflowers different?
The gap in the market lies in the story of the women behind the saffron spice, the health benefits of saffron, education on what makes premium saffron, and sharing this with a broad audience. Harvesting saffron is a delicate and labor intensive process; it takes between 50,000 to 70,000 saffron flowers to produce one pound of the spice. The premium quality saffron from Afghanistan is new to the market, though it has been used for centuries as a culinary herb and is known for its calmative, antidepressant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Tell me about your supply chain and the women you work with.
We work with two partner farms in the Herat province of Afghanistan. I’m in touch with one of the girls representing her family in selling the saffron and she has made it here. She’s shared that no one knows if the women are allowed to go back to work during harvest season. People in general are very scared of repercussions by the Taliban and my sources tell me that women were told not to go to work on the fields to harvest saffron. With that said, there are now a lot of logistical issues with getting saffron out of Afghanistan. People were hopeful for these emerging industries, myself very much included, as it created so many jobs and prosperity.
How are you doing, and how is your family during this difficult time in Afghanistan?
These past few weeks have been very difficult for me. I was reliving my own childhood trauma of becoming a refugee. The images of people trying to evacuate at the Kabul airport were devastating and we really feel the pain and fear of people. Every time I talk to my family members in Kabul and in the Netherlands, everyone keeps telling me how they feel heartbroken. And that’s what it is: collective heartbreak. The feeling that you are from this homeland that knows no peace and justice is very painful. Most of my direct family had left during the 80s and 90s, though as Afghan families are usually very large, we still have many family members who are stuck in Kabul. I keep hearing from my cousins how scared they are. Most of the girls were crying because they were afraid to be taken away by the Taliban.
We are hopeful that people will unite with the National Resistance Front, stand for a just Afghanistan, and resist the oppression by the Taliban. During the civil war in the 90s, most of my generation left the country as children. We are now older and will not stand by and do nothing.
We will always be hopeful and actively make efforts for a better future for Afghanistan, a better future for the children and women of Afghanistan.
Will your business model shift, given the recent events in Afghanistan?
I have saffron supplies that will last until Spring 2022 and I’m in touch with my suppliers to see how we can import more Afghan saffron. The future is very unclear for everyone at this point. We do not know what the future holds particularly for women and girls in Afghanistan. Our goal is that Moonflowers continues to provide a way to uplift and empower Afghan women.
The recent events make it more challenging, but it’s one we will gladly take on.
What is your hope for your business moving forward?
My hope is freedom, justice and democracy for all the people of Afghanistan. We deserve better than this.
Twenty years of progress have been taken away by the Taliban right now, but we will continue to find ways to source premium quality saffron from Afghanistan. People are resilient and will find ways to get it out.
How can readers support the women of Afghanistan?
For right now the best way to help is to donate to organizations that help refugees with resettlement. Some of the organizations that we have been supporting are International Rescue Committee (IRC), Women for Afghan Women, and we have been donating meals (our restaurant Sheesh Grill) to Afghan refugees who arrived at the Dulles International Airport through World Central Kitchen. You can follow us at @moonflowers_co and check out our website for resources to help Afghan refugees. We’ve also added a direct donation option to our shop page on www.Moonflowers.co to prompt customers to make an impact through a vetted organization. 100% of those donations will be going to the International Rescue Committee, whose mission is dedicated to helping displaced people find their footing after facing these unimaginable circumstances.