EghtesadOnline: A total of 622,680 tons of watermelon worth $116.75 million were exported from Iran to 36 countries during the first half of the current Iranian year (March 21-Sept. 22).
This shows a 2.5% increase and a 0.5% decline in weight and value respectively compared with the similar period of last year, according to the latest figures released by the Islamic Republic of Iran Customs Administration.
The biggest customer for Iran’s watermelon was Iraq with 347,540 tons worth more than $62.6 million. Other main customers over the period were the UAE, Turkey, Afghanistan, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Russia, Pakistan, Romania, Armenia and Greece.
Many agricultural experts censure the exports of watermelons, which they believe is a water-intensive crop. They say that in the light of dwindling underground water resources and the acute water crisis facing the country, the export of water-intensive products is not economical, Financial Tribune reported.
“Exporting water-intensive crops such as watermelon is equal to exporting water at cheap prices,” Kouhsar Khaledi, a university professor, said, calling for a review of export-pricing for these crops.
Farmers receive water subsidy that makes farming cheaper for them. "However, crops are exported at cheap prices that do not serve the interest of the country. Although not against subsidy support for farmers, long-term policies are needed to earn the real price of water consumed in farming."
He called for a review of watermelon farming to identify alternativee crops that can be produced using less water with higher returns.
Khaledi admitted the importance of non-oil export development for the country, but noted that export-oriented farming should inflict the least damage to the soil and water resources and at the same time, bring back high returns.
However, Hossein Asgari, director general of the Ministry of Agriculture’s Fodder and Gourd Crops Bureau, believes otherwise.
"In some parts of the country, like the southeastern Sistan-Baluchestan Province, precipitation levels are adequate for a short period of three months.
“So we need a crop such as watermelon, for which the cultivation period from pre-harvest to harvest would take no more than three months and will bear fruit within this limited time. A crop with a longer cultivation period will face water shortage and definitely perish away,” he was quoted as saying by ILNA.
Asgari said farmers in these regions need to earn a living and watermelons are a great source of money.
The official added that watermelons consume the same amount of water as do cucumbers and melons, yet they are more resistant to water shortage and grow deeper roots into the soil which, for farmers, means lower risk.