EghtesadOnline: Rice cultivation in the southern Khuzestan Province will be banned as of the upcoming crop year starting on March 21, the deputy head of Khuzestan Agricultural Jihad Organization said.
“This is due to the water shortage facing the country. We advise farmers to cultivate alternative crops such as pulses, sunflowers, soybeans and fodder, which are less water-intensive,” Mohammad Qaseminejad was also quoted by Mehr News Agency as saying.
The official added that land under rice cultivation in Khuzestan has declined from between 97,000 and 98,000 hectares five years ago to less than 40,000 hectares at present.
Agricultural and environment experts have been urging the government for years to restrict rice farming to the water-rich provinces of Gilan and Mazandaran, which are home to the majority of Iran’s paddy fields, and to ban the activity in the rest of the country, Financial Tribune reported.
Apart from the two northern provinces, rice is currently cultivated in Khuzestan, Isfahan, Fars, Kohgilouyeh-Boyerahmad, Chaharmahal-Bakhtiari, Ilam, Qazvin, Lorestan, Zanjan, Sistan-Baluchestan, Kurdestan, Ardabil, East Azarbaijan and North Khorasan. Most of these provinces are facing an acute water shortage.
The water crisis has exacerbated to such an extent that agricultural officials have expressed concerns regarding rice farming even in the north of the country where precipitation levels are relatively higher.
The head of Mazandaran Agricultural Jihad Organization said in February that there are serious concerns regarding problems facing local farmers during rice planting season.
Delavar Heydarpour added that water reserves behind the province’s dams have decreased by an average of 40% since the beginning of the current fiscal year (March 21, 2017).
“Our suggestion is that farmers in Sari, Miandoroud, Behshahr, Galugah and parts of Jouybar and Simorgh avoid rice plantation and opt for the cultivation of oilseeds, or fodder instead,” he was quoted as saying.
In February, Agriculture Minister Mahmoud Hijjati said that amid low precipitation and water shortage, the government is going to place restrictions on the cultivation of crops in areas where underground water resources have reached alarming levels as of the upcoming Iranian year (starting March 21).
“In other areas such as Khuzestan and Mazandaran provinces, farmers can use low-depth wells to deal with the situation for the time being,” he was quoted as saying by IRNA.
Energy Minister Reza Ardakanian said water shortage will negatively impact the spring cultivation of agricultural products.
"The drought facing the country next year is expected to be the worst over the past 50 years. We have to adapt ourselves and learn how to use water more efficiently," he said.
Director of Iran Water Industry Federation noted that although water scarcity is one of the biggest environmental challenges facing Iran, inefficient management of the valuable resource is largely to blame for a crisis that has emerged over the years.
“The revenue earned from the sale and export of many types of crops does not equal the value of water used for their irrigation,” Abdolreza Foroughi also said recently.
Reportedly, about 92% of the country’s water resources are used up by unsustainable and wasteful farming practices.
The country’s nearly two-decade struggle with drought, combined with high consumption and waste, has caused renewable water resources to drop under 120 billion cubic meters. However, by some accounts, this figure is closer to 88 bcm.
Located in one of the world’s most water-stressed regions, Iran’s average precipitation rate has been lower than the global average for at least 10 years. Some 37 million Iranians are said to be living in water-stressed regions.