Fruit of Land and Labor
Roughly one-third of Iran’s total surface area is arable farmland, less than one-third of the cultivated area is irrigated; the rest is devoted to dry farming. The western and northwestern portions of the country have the most fertile soils. At the end of the 20th century, agricultural activities accounted for about one-fifth of Iran’s gross domestic product (GDP) and employed a comparable proportion of the workforce. Progressive government efforts during the 1990s have improved agricultural productivity, helping Iran toward its goal of reestablishing national self-sufficiency in food production.
The wide range of temperature fluctuation in different parts of the country and the multiplicity of climatic zones make it possible to cultivate a diverse variety of crops, including cereals (wheat, barley, rice, and corn [maize]), fruits (dates, figs, pomegranates, melons, and grapes), vegetables, cotton, sugar beets and sugarcane, nuts, olives, spices, tea, tobacco, and medicinal herbs. Iran’s forests cover approximately the same amount of land as its crops—about one-tenth of its total surface area.
The largest and most valuable woodland areas are in the Caspian region, where many of the forests are commercially exploitable and include both hardwoods and softwoods. Forest products include plywood, fiberboard, and lumber for the construction and furniture industries. Fishing is also important, and Iran harvests fish both for domestic consumption and for export, marketing their products fresh, salted, smoked, or canned. Sturgeon (yielding its roe for caviar), bream, whitefish, salmon, mullet, carp, catfish, perch, and roach are caught in the Caspian Sea, Iran’s most important fishery.
More than 200 species of fish are found in the Persian Gulf, 150 of which are edible, including shrimps and prawns. Of the country’s livestock, sheep are by far the most numerous, followed by goats, cattle, asses, horses, water buffalo, and mules. The raising of poultry for eggs and meat is prevalent, and camels are still raised and bred for use in transport.
A brief history of agriculture in Iran
Agriculture has a long history and tradition in Iran. As early as 10,000 BCE, the earliest known domestication of the goat had taken place in the Iranian plateau. Fruits such as the peach first found their way into Europe from Persia, as indicated by their Latin name, Persica, from which we have the English word “peach.” As did Tulips, which were also first cultivated in ancient Persia and spinach, the word Spinach itself derived from the 272 Persian words Esfenāj.
The Chinese referred to in 647CE as ‘the herb of Persia’. In 400BCE, a form of ice cream was in use in Persia, and the ancestor of the cookie is said to have come from Persia (from the Persian Kūlūcheh) in the 7th century according to many sources. In the fifth century, BCE Persia was even the source for the introduction of the domesticated chicken into Europe.
The mid-fifth century BCE poet Cratinus (according to the later Greek author “Athenaeus”) for example calls the chicken “the Persian alarm”. In Aristophanes’ comedy The Birds (414 BC) a chicken is called “the Median bird”, which points to its introduction from Persia. The Qanāts, a subterranean aqueduct used for irrigation in agriculture, was one of the most significant and achievements of the Persian tradition.
Qanats were in use millennia ago, and are still in use in contemporary Iran. The wide range of temperature fluctuation in different parts of the country and the multiplicity of climatic zones make it possible to cultivate a diverse variety of crops, including cereals (wheat, barley, rice, and maize (corn)), fruits (dates, figs, pomegranates, melons, and grapes), vegetables, cotton, sugar beets and sugarcane, pistachios (World’s largest producer with 40% of the world’s output in 2005), nuts, olives, spices e.g. saffron (World’s largest producer with 81% of the world’s total output), tea, tobacco, and medicinal herbs. More than 2,000 plant species are grown in Iran; only 100 of which are being used in pharmaceutical industries.
Agriculture Sector in the Islamic Republic of Iran
The Islamic Republic of Iran has a total population of approximately 85 million. They live in a total area of 1,648,195 sq km. Approximately 75 % of the population live in urban areas with a growth annual rate of 1.98 %. The remaining 26% are inhabitants of rural areas with a growth annual rate of -0.98%. The I.R. Iran is a predominantly agricultural country.
The core governance structure of the agricultural sector lies within the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Agriculture Jahad (MAJ) while other national entities like the Ministry of Health and Medical Education, Ministry of Cooperatives, Department of Environment, Labor and Social Welfare, and Ministry of Interior have relevant responsibilities to the food security, even though FAO may not have direct support activities with them.
The 6th Five-Year National Development Plan (6th FYNDP) of Iran, finalized in March 2017, covers the period 2017-2021. The 6th FYNDP is an ambitious plan that is founded on three main pillars and objectives: i) Resilient economy, ii) Advancing science and technology, and iii) Promoting cultural excellence and stability.
Under these pillars, the 6th FYNDP priority areas include water and environment, food safety and production of strategic commodities, and knowledge-based economy and society, enabling the poor and disadvantaged; hence, pursuing efforts to ensure people’s regular access to sufficient high-quality nutritious food is pivotal to securing a resilient economy and promoting stability.
Major progress has been attained over the past three decades in reducing food insecurity in Iran. Since the 1990s, the number of people suffering from hunger has steadily declined. Iran has had the greatest reduction in the Global Hunger Index ranking in the Middle East. However, to reduce the risk of food insecurity and strengthen the contribution of the agricultural sector to the national economy, agriculture, forestry, and fisheries need to be more productive whilst safeguarding natural resources.
The depletion of water resources and land degradation are further exacerbated by the adverse impacts of climate change. These challenges call for programmers that reinforce the resilience of rural communities as well as their livelihoods and hosting ecosystems to the threats posed by such plights. The issues faced by the country in this respect are comparable to those of other countries in the region.