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Map of Iran's major crops, circa 1978.
A Lahijan tea farm during harvest time, northern Iran.

Roughly one-third of Iran's total surface area is suited for farmland, but because of poor soil and lack of adequate water distribution in many areas, most of it is not under cultivation. Only 12% of the total land area is under cultivation (arable land, orchards and vineyards) but less than one-third of the cultivated area is irrigated; the rest is devoted to dry farming. Some 92 percent of agro products depend on water.[1] The western and northwestern portions of the country have the most fertile soils. Iran's food security index stands at around 96 percent.[2]

One third of the total land area (35%) is used for grazing and small fodder production. Most of the grazing is done on mostly semi-dry rangeland in mountain areas and on areas surrounding the large deserts ("Dasht's") of Central Iran.

The non-agricultural surface represents 53% of the total area of Iran, as follows:

  • Abb. 35% of the country is covered by deserts, salt flats ("kavirs") and bare-rock mountains, not suited for agricultural purposes.
  • An additional 11% of Iran's total surface is covered by woodlands.
  • And 7% is covered by cities, towns, villages, industrial areas and roads.

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. Most farms are small, less than 25 acres (10 hectares), and thus are not economically viable, which has contributed to the wide-scale migration to cities. In addition to water scarcity and areas of poor soil, seed is of low quality and farming techniques are antiquated.

All these factors have contributed to low crop yields and poverty in rural areas. Further, after the 1979 revolution many agricultural workers claimed ownership rights and forcibly occupied large, privately owned farms where they had been employed. The legal disputes that arose from this situation remained unresolved through the 1980s, and many owners put off making large capital investments that would have improved farm productivity, further deteriorating production. Progressive government efforts and incentives during the 1990s, however, improved agricultural productivity marginally, helping Iran toward its goal of reestablishing national self-sufficiency in food production.


Crops and plants

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[3]), nuts, olives, spices e.g. saffron (World's largest producer with 81% of the world's total output)[4], raisin(world's third largest producer & second largest exporter[5]), tea, tobacco, Berberis(world's largest producer[6]) and medicinal herbs[7]. More than 2,000 plant species are grown in Iran; only 100 of which are being used in pharmaceutical industries. The land covered by Iran's natural flora is four times that of Europe.[8]

In 2005, Iran's first genetically modified (GM) rice was approved by national authorities and is being grown commercially for human consumption. In addition to GM rice, Iran has produced several GM plants in the laboratory, such as insect-resistant maize; cotton; potatoes and sugar beets; herbicide-resistant canola; salinity- and drought-tolerant wheat; and blight-resistant maize and wheat.[9] Insert non-formatted text here


Iranian shepherds moving their sheep. North-western Iran, winter 2008.

Of the country's livestock, sheep are by far the most numerous, followed by goats, cattle, donkeys, horses, water buffalo, and mules. The raising of poultry for eggs and meat is prevalent. Iran has also a large dairy industry and imported close to two million tonnes of feed grain annually in 2006. The raising of Pigs is forbidden in Iran due to Islamic law.[10]


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.


Iran's forests cover approximately the same amount of land as its agricultural crops—about one-ninth of its total surface area. The largest and most valuable woodland areas are in the Caspian region and the northern slopes of the Elburz Mts., 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. The cutting of trees is rigidly controlled by the government, which also has a reforestation program.


Colorized picture of farmers winnowing grain in Southern Iran, 1921.

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.[11] By 5000BCE, wine was being fermented in Iran [12], and by 1700 BCE, the windmill had been invented in Persia for the first time in history.[13][14]

Fruits such as the peach first found their way into Europe from Persia, as indicated by their Latin name, persica, from which (by way of the French) we have the English word "peach." [15] As did Tulips, which were also first cultivated in ancient Persia [16][17] and spinach, the word Spinach itself derived from the Persian word اسفناج Esfenaj. The Chinese referred to it in 647CE as 'the herb of Persia'. In 400BCE, a form of ice cream was in use in Persia [18][19], and the ancestor of the cookie is said to have come from Persia (from the Persian koolucheh) in the 7th century according to many sources.[20][21]

Fifth century BCE Persia was even the source for 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's comedy The Birds (414 BC) a chicken is called "the Median bird", which points to its introduction from Persis.

The Qanat, a subterranean aqueduct used for irrigation in agriculture, was one of the most significant and successful achievements of the Persian tradition. Qanats were in use millennia ago, and are still in use in contemporary Iran.

Agriculture in Iran's economy

Keshavarzi Building which houses Iran's Ministry of Agriculture

Land use and irrigation

Overall, Iran's soil is not well suited for large scale agriculture. About 12 percent of the country's total land area of 1,636,000 km² is cultivated. Still, 63% of the cultivable lands have not been used, and 185,000 km² of the present farms are being used with 50 to 60% capacity.[22]

Both irrigated and rain-fed farming are used in Iran. In 2005, some 13.05 million hectares of land was under cultivation, of which 50.45% was allocated to irrigated farming and the remaining 49.55% to rain-fed system.[23]

Economic history

After nearly achieving agricultural self-sufficiency in the 1960s, Iran reached the point in 1979 where 65 percent of its food had to be imported. Declining productivity was blamed on the use of modern fertilizers, which had inadvertently scorched the thin Iranian soil. Unresolved land reform issues, a lack of economic incentives to raise surplus crops, and low profit ratios combined to drive increasingly large segments of the farm population into urban areas.

Since 1979 commercial farming has replaced subsistence farming as the dominant mode of agricultural production. Some northern and western areas support rain-fed agriculture, while other areas require irrigation for successful crop production. The 1979 Revolution sought self-sufficiency in foodstuffs as part of its overall goal of decreased economic dependence on the West. Higher government subsidies for grain and other staples and expanded short-term credit and tax exemptions for farmers complying with government quotas were intended by the new regime to promote self-sufficiency. But by early 1987, Iran was actually more dependent on agricultural imports than in the 1970s.

By 1997, the gross value of products in Iran's agricultural sector had reached $25 billion. In 2000, the Construction Jihad Organization and the Ministry of Agriculture were merged by national legislation, to form the new Ministry of Agricultural Jihad.

In 2003, a quarter of Iran's non-oil exports were agricultural based. In 2004 an agricultural bourse started trading agricultural and related products in the country.[24] Iran's agricultural sector contributed 11 percent of the GDP in 2004 and employed a third of the labor force.

Benefiting from 123,580 square kilometers of land suitable for agriculture, the agricultural sector is one of the major contributors to Iran's economy. It accounts for almost 13% of Iran's GDP, 20% of the employed population, 23% of non-oil exports, 82% of domestically consumed foodstuffs and 90% of raw materials used in the food processing industry (2008).[23]

Focus areas

The focus areas for agriculture are:

  • Financing and low-interest loans for investment in agriculture and agro-industrial projects.
  • Ensuring self-sufficiency in the provision of national food requirements.
  • Budgets for agro-industrial projects in the food processing, packaging and irrigation sectors.
  • Provision of agricultural machinery and equipment with emphasis on local production by making transfer of technology a required clause in foreign contracts. Foreign loans and investments in the agro sector exceeded $500 million in 2008.[25]
  • Allocation of government loans and financing for agro-industrial projects.

Agro complexes

In 2009 seven hundred agricultural complexes were under construction on 60,000 hectares of farmlands across the country. Chicken farms, animal husbandries, fish farming pools and greenhouses are built in these complexes.[26]

Mechanized agriculture

Mechanized agricultural has had a slow but steady growth in Iran. Industrial facilities in Tabriz and Arak are Iran's largest producers of machinery and equipment for the agricultural sector. 12,000 combine harvesters and 300,000 tractors are currently used in the sector (2007).[27] Tabriz Tractor Manufacturing Company, which was founded four decades ago, employs almost 10,000 people. It produces 30,000 tractors annually, a large part of which is exported.[28] Iran declared self-sufficiency in irrigation and agricultural machinery in 2008.[29]

Iranian fishermen by the Caspian Sea

Production and consumption

There are 22,000 food industries units in the country (2009). The capacity of these units has increased to 60 million tons from 8 million tons in the pre-Islamic Revolution era.[1] Agricultural production stood at 108 million tons in 2008, which indicates a 20 million ton increase from 2007.[30]

Per capita consumption (Source:EIU)[31] 2009 est. 2010 est.
Meat consuption (kg per head) 27 27
Milk consumption (litres per head) 64 65
Fruit consumption (kg per head) 172 173
Vegetable consumption (kg per head) 184 186
Tea consumption (kg per head) 0.9 0.9

In 2007, Iran attained 96 percent self-sufficiency in essential agricultural products.[1] While the Iranian Government policy is aimed at self-sufficiency for even more products, it's unlikely the country will produce enough agricultural products in the short- to medium-term to meet that goal. The wastages are in the steps: storing, processing, marketing and consumption.[32] Iran has struggled to provide enough basic food commodities to its local market demands, following a significant population increase over the past two decades.

Crops and plants

Wheat, rice, and barley are the country's major crops.

Wheat: In 2007 Iran exported close to 600,000 tones of wheat (out of a production of 15 million tonnes).[33] Approximately 6 million tons of wheat will be purchased from 15 countries in 2009 because of the drought in 2008, thus making Iran the largest wheat importer in the world.[34][35]

Rice: Iran's total rice production stands at 2.2 million tons per annum whereas annual consumption is about three million tons (2008).[22] Iran has imported about 630,000 tons of rice from UAE, Pakistan and Uruguay worth $271 million in 2008 and 1.4 million tons of rice, worth $800 million in 2009.[36][37] Iran has 3,800 rice milling units (2009).[1] The average per capita consumption of rice in Iran is 45.5 kg, which makes Iranians the 13th biggest rice consumers.[38]

Sugar: In 2008, Iran had a shortage of 400,000 tons to 600,000 tons of sugar nationwide.[39]

Pistachio: Iran ranks the world's largest pistachio producer and exporter followed by USA and Turkey. After oil and carpets, pistachios are Iran's biggest exports: about 200,000 tons for $840 million in 2008.[25] More than 350,000 people earn a living from the nut, most of them in vast groves of the desert oases in southeast.[3][40]

Saffron: Saffron is cultivated in many regions of the country, the provinces of North Khorasan, Khorasan Razavi and South Khorasan in the northeast have the highest production share. Iran's saffron is exported mostly to the United Arab Emirates, Spain, Japan, Turkmenistan, France, Italy and US.[41] Iran is the largest producer of Saffron with 93.7% of the world's total production.

Tea: Tea production rose to 190,000 tons in 2007 from 130,000 tons in 2004. 75,000 tons of tea is smuggled into Iran each year (2008).[42]

Horticulture: Close to 19 million tons of horticultural crops will be produced by the end of Fourth Plan (2005–10).[43]

Fruits: Iran exported more than 35,000 tons of citrus fruits valued at $20.8 million to 36 countries in 2008.[44] Iran is the largest producer of berries and stone fruits in the world.[6]


Production of livestock increased over the past three years to reach 11.3 million tons in 2008 from the 10.6 million tons in 2007, and 9.9 million tons in 2006.[45] Meat processing capacity is at 400,000 tons and 140 production units (2009).[1] In 2008, per capita meat consumption was 26 kg.[31]


Some 692,000 tons of aquatics will be produced across the country by the end of the 2008, of which 236,000 tons would be bred and the rest fished from the sea. Per capita consumption of seafood in Iran will reach 8.5 kg by March 2009 and 10 kg a year later.[46]

Caviar: Iranian caviar export is expected to reach $22 million by March 2009.[47] Iran is the world's largest producer and exporter of caviar in the world, exporting more than 300 tonnes annually.[48][49]

Production Statistics

The following items are the most important agricultural commodities in Iran, listed by their international value in United States dollar in 2007.[6]:

Commodity; (Source: FAO)[6] International Value; x$1000 Quantity; Metric Tons
Cow milk 1,715,313 6,500,000
Grapes 1,391,700 2,900,000
Tomatoes 1,184,650 5,000,000
Wheat 1,169,603 15,000,000
Apples 764,005 2,660,000
Pistachios 760,184 230,000
Potatoes 729,601 4,500,000
Hen Eggs 543,543 711,000
Rice 471,135 2,800,000
Oranges 404,202 2,300,000
Watermelons 344,091 3,300,000
Fresh Vegetables 328,387 1,750,000
Dates 313,470 1,000,000
Onions, Dry 313,293 1,700,000
Cucumbers and gherkins 290,146 1,720,000
Sugar beet 243,959 5,300,000
Fresh Fruit 223,314 1,400,000
Cantaloupes 218,091 1,230,000
Walnuts 208,506 170,000
Cherries 196,317 225,000

The following is the Iranian out-put listed according to largest global producer rankings in 2007:[6][48][50]

World Ranking Commodity
1st Pistachio, Berberis(Zereshk), Caviar, Saffron, Stone fruits
2nd Dates, Apricots
3rd Watermelons, Cherries, Cantaloupes & other melons, Apples, Figs, Gherkins
4th Fresh Fruits, Quinces, Wool, Almonds, Walnuts
5th Anise, Badian, Fennel, Corian, Chickpeas, Silk worm cocoons
6th Hazelnut, Buffalo milk
7th Grapes, Onions, Sour cherries, Sheep milk, Kiwifruit, Tomatoes
8th Spices, Peach, Nectarines, Tangerine, Mandarin orange, Clem, Lemons & Limes, Oranges

, Goat milk, Pumpkins, Squash & Gourds

9th Lentils
10th Persimmons, Tea, Natural honey
11th Hempseed
12th Citrus fruit, Wheat, Plums and sloes
13th Melon-seeds, Hen eggs, Eggplants (Aubergines)
14th Sugar beet, Fresh vegetables, Barley, Potatoes
15th Safflower seed


Iran is famously known around the world for the quality of its Caviar.

Agricultural exports stood at $1.2 billion in 2004-5 and $2.6 billion in 2007-8.[51] Major agricultural exports include fresh and dried fruits, nuts, animal hides, processed foods, and spices. Pistachio, raisins, dates and saffron are the first four export products, from the viewpoint of value.[23] Close to 8 million tons of agricultural products are exported annually (2008).[25] But according to the Central Bank of Iran, only 3.2 million tons of "agricultural products" were exported in 2008 with a total value of $3.2 billion "which showed a 6.1 percent increase over the previous year".[45]


Iran exported $736 million worth of foodstuffs in 2007 and $1 billion (~600,000 tonnes) in 2010.[52] Soft drinks, mineral water, biscuit, chocolate, confection, edible oil, dairies, conserved foods and fruits, jam and jelly, macaroni, fruit juice and yeast were among the main exports to Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and other Central Asian countries, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Syria, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, France, Canada, Venezuela, Japan, South Korea and Turkey.[53][52]

Industry standards

Iran is signatory to bi-lateral protocols that set the standards for many of its agricultural imports including meat and wheat. The protocols are usually negotiated on a country-by-country basis and it's commonplace for Iran to inspect produce prior to shipment.

Iran Customs and the Iran Veterinary Organization are the policing bodies for imported food products, including dairy.

Meat imports require written authorization from the Ministries of Commerce and Construction Jihad. The Iranian Government insists on the presence of Shiite clergymen and inspections by the Veterinary Organization during any livestock slaughter.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^ Press TV - Iran's saffron exports exceed $14m
  5. ^,%20Turkey,%20USA%20major%20raisin%20exporters
  6. ^ a b c d e
  7. ^ Iran Daily - Panorama - 01/18/07
  8. ^ Iran’s share of worldwide medicinal plant trade barely 2%
  9. ^ Iranian scientists produce GM rice : Middle East Latest News
  10. ^ Agriculture Canada: Agri-Food Country Profile Statistical Overview - Iran
  11. ^ Science News: Goat busters track domestication.(physiologic changes and evolution of goats into a domesticated animal)(Brief Article)
  12. ^ Research
  13. ^ Blue Planet On Line - Speciale "Sviluppo sostenibile"
  14. ^ Windmill, an Encarta Encyclopedia Article Titled "Windmill"
  15. ^ Birds and All Nature: The Peach
  16. ^ Flower of the Month Club
  17. ^ A Tale of the Tulip
  18. ^ KryssTal : Inventions: 1000 BC to 1 BC
  19. ^ Inventions: Do you want to know more about when things started than that smart-aleck who habitually occupies the stool next to
  20. ^ History of Cookies
  21. ^ The History of Cookies
  22. ^ a b
  23. ^ a b c
  24. ^ BBC Persian
  25. ^ a b c
  26. ^
  27. ^ Iran Daily - Domestic Economy - 06/26/07
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^ a b "IRAN: Food, Beverages and Tobacco Forecast", Economist Intelligence Unit, August 18, 2008 
  32. ^
  33. ^ Iran Daily: Trade With PGCC To Improve Retrieved April 7, 2008
  34. ^
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^
  40. ^ Iran Daily: Pistachio Exports Up Retrieved November 10, 2008
  41. ^
  42. ^
  43. ^
  44. ^
  45. ^ a b
  46. ^
  47. ^
  48. ^ a b
  49. ^
  50. ^
  51. ^
  52. ^ a b
  53. ^

External links


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