Al Monitor| Maysam Bizaer: While Iran may be known for its massive oil and natural gas reserves to many people around the world, it is also known to some for its top-quality pistachios. Production of the nut in Iran dates to the fifth century B.C. For the last Iranian calendar year (ending March 20, 2016), Iran produced 261,000 tons of pistachios, 50% of which was exported. According to official figures, Iran earned as much as $1.2 billion from the export of 130,000 tons of pistachios last year, making it the biggest source of income in the agricultural sector.
Iran was for a time the unrivaled, leading producer of pistachios, with southeastern Kerman province being the hub of production for so-called green gold. That, however, changed in recent years. In 2012, the United States for the first time became the largest producer and exporter of pistachios, as production declined in Iran, mainly due to water shortages triggered by climate change and uncontrolled use of underground reserves.
Climate change has caused a nationwide drought in Iran, leading to 85% of the country being classified as arid or semi-arid. The decline in annual average rainfall and resulting shortage of surface water has forced farmers to dig more wells to pump water from underground reserves. Nearly half of the 750,000 water pumps on Iranian farms are illegal, which illustrates why the unconstrained use of underground water in agriculture is the main source of water waste in the country.
The situation is grim in Kerman province, which accounts for 70% of the country’s pistachio production. Mohsen Jalalpour, former chairman of the Iran Chamber of Commerce, is one of the many experts who has repeatedly warned about the danger to pistachio production. “Kerman’s pistachio industry will last no more than 10 years,” he told the business weekly Tejarat-e Farda in November.