EghtesadOnline: Restrictions will be imposed on rice cultivation in Iranian provinces other than the two northern provinces of Gilan and Mazandaran.
According to deputy agriculture minister for water and soil affairs, the decision has been made by the Cabinet and conveyed to provinces across the country for implementation.
"Rice cultivation will first be restricted for three years, as farmers will receive no facilities or support from the government in provinces other than Gilan and Mazandaran during this period,” Alimorad Akbari was also quoted as saying by Mehr News Agency.
After the three years, there will be an all-out ban on rice cultivation, except for in Gilan and Mazandaran, Financial Tribune reported.
The official explained that Iran is a dry country and the rise and fall in precipitation levels are a characteristic of arid regions.
“We are facing climate change in Iran and therefore, need to adopt a long-term vision to devise cultivation patterns,” he said.
Agricultural and environmental 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 a majority of Iran’s paddy fields, and to ban the cultivation of the staple Iranian crop in other parts of the country.
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 provinces.
This is while most of these provinces are facing an acute water shortage.
The water crisis in Iran has exacerbated to an extent that agricultural officials have expressed concerns regarding rice farming even in the north of the country where precipitation levels are relatively higher.
In February, Agriculture Minister Mahmoud Hijjati said that amid low precipitation and water shortage, the government will impose restrictions on the cultivation of crops in areas where underground water resources have reached alarming levels as of the next 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.
Director of Iran Water Industry Federation says 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, 92% of Iran'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.
Iranians consume 3.2 million tons of rice per annum while domestic production stands at 2.2 million tons.
Iran is mainly importing rice from the UAE, India, Pakistan, Thailand, Turkey and Iraq.
Every year and during the rice harvest season, the government bans rice imports in support of local farmers and domestic production.