Iran agriculture weathers drought to keep humming

Press TV- Iran’s agricultural exports in the nine months since March 2017 totaled more than $4.5 billion, the country’s agriculture ministry said on Saturday.

Horticultural products such as fruits, vegetables and nuts constituted more than 48% of the exports worth more than $2.2 billion, deputy agriculture minister Abdolmahdi Bakhshandeh was quoted as saying.

Iran’s grain and feed exports during the period totaled $1.1 billion, which accounted for 24.7% of the whole.

The country also exported $754 million worth of livestock, poultry and dairy as well as fish, Mehr news agency quoted him as saying.

Iran’s prized pistachio nuts were the top foreign exchange earner among the agricultural exports at $972 million.

The country is the world’s biggest pistachio exporter, a position it has maintained thanks to the premium quality of its crop in the face of stiff rivalry from the US.

According to head of the Iran-China Chamber of Commerce Asadollah Asgaroladi, 250,000 tonnes of pistachio nuts are produced a year, of which 150,000-160,000 tonnes are exported.

Dairy exports reached $517 million during the period, thanks to a new customer which they have found in Russia. The country also exported $268 million of tomatoes and $213 million of potatoes, mainly to the Persian Gulf littoral states.

Iran further earned $255 million through exports of saffron – the world’s most expensive spice. The UAE and Spain reportedly import what is globally known as “red gold” from Iran and rebrand it for exports at much higher prices.

Iran produces over 90% of the world’s saffron, with the northeastern Khorasan province being the capital of the spice. However, the country’s share of the $8.2 billion business is negligible.

According Bakhshandeh, $191 million worth of dates, $142 million of apples and $138 million of grapes were also exported during the period.

However, one new staple on the export list was wheat which brought the country $84 million in hard currency earnings.

For more than a decade, Iran was a major importer of the strategic staple but the country has become self-sufficient in wheat in recent years thanks to state purchases of the crop from local farmers.

Agriculture accounts for 13% of Iran’s GDP and over 20% of its employment. The country is the world’s 20th country by agricultural output, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The sector, however, has its own detractors who say the industry is using up 92% of the country’s water and draining its water tables amid inefficient agriculture and food production practices.

They are pushing for farming overseas in countries such as Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Brazil and Ghana through long-term leasing or ownership of farmlands with higher agribusiness potentials.