EghtesadOnline: Atotal of 2.9 million tons of rice were produced in Iran during the last fiscal year (March 2020-21), but due to the 40% fall in precipitation, a decline in yields is predicted this year, according to the Agriculture Ministry’s director general of Grains and Essential Goods Department.
“Last crop year, more than 803,000 hectares of paddy fields went under rice cultivation. The figure has decreased to 611,000 hectares this year,” Faramak Aziz-Karimi was quoted as saying by ILNA.
The official said that at present, the staple grain is being cultivated in 19 provinces across the country, namely Gilan, Mazandaran, Khuzestan, Isfahan, Fars, Kohgilouyeh-Boyerahmad, Chaharmahal-Bakhtiari, Ilam, Qazvin, Lorestan, Zanjan, Sistan-Baluchestan, Kurdestan, Ardabil, East and West Azarbaijan, Khorasan Razavi, North Khorasan and Kermanshah.
“In the current crop year, land under cultivation and production in provinces other than the northern Gilan and Mazandaran is estimated to decline by close to 24% and 22% respectively compared with last year,” he added.
The water crisis in Iran has worsened to such an extent that agricultural officials have expressed concerns regarding rice farming even in northern Iran where precipitation levels are relatively higher.
In February 2019, former agriculture minister, Mahmoud Hojjati, said that amid low precipitation and water shortage, the government will restrict the cultivation of crops in areas where underground water resources have declined to alarming levels.
Later, the Cabinet decided to impose bans on rice cultivation in a phased manner in all Iranian provinces, except Gilan and Mazandaran.
Drought has inflicted 670 trillion rials ($2.6 billion) in losses on Iran’s agriculture sector since the beginning of the current crop year.
According to Mohammad Mousavi, an official with Agriculture Ministry, precipitation rate in the current crop year has decreased by 54% compared with last year and 41% compared with the long-time average.
“Besides the decline in precipitation rate, increase in heatwaves and evaporation and the inappropriate distribution of rainfall have resulted in drought and its adverse consequences on the agriculture sector … Reports by Iran Meteorological Organization say 92% of the country have been affected by drought at different levels: 20% of the country’s area are facing extreme drought, 28% severe drought, 25% moderate drought and 19% of the country are going through stages of becoming abnormally dry. Only 8% of the country are in normal conditions,” he was quoted as saying by Mehr News Agency.
The seasonal ban imposed on rice imports has been lifted in the current Iranian year as per the decision of Market Regulation Headquarters affiliated with the Ministry of Industries, Mining and Trade.
The headquarters took the decision after taking into account this year’s estimated domestic production, imports and matters related to local market regulation, Mehr News Agency reported recently.
The Market Regulation Headquarters has announced that the measure will be taken to ensure the country’s demand for the staple grain will be met.
Moreover, the headquarters in a letter to the Islamic Republic of Iran Customs Administration’s Import and Export Bureau ordered that rice consignments that have arrived at the customs terminals by June 21 to undergo clearance, adding that the measure has to be taken in these “sensitive” times of water shortage to ensure the country’s food security.
Every year and during the rice harvest season, the government bans rice imports in support of local farmers and domestic production. The ban usually begins in August and lasts until November.
According to Aziz-Karimi, over 73% of last year’s rice cultivation took place in the three northern provinces of Gilan (32%), Mazandaran (26%) and Golestan (15%), and 18% in the southern province of Khuzestan. The staple grain was cultivated in 15 other provinces as well, which together accounted for 8% of the annual harvest.
Rice is a staple food in Iran. Iranians consume around 3.2 million tons of rice a year. The difference between domestic production and local need is imported from the UAE, India, Pakistan, Thailand, Turkey and Iraq.
Rice imports stood at 182,000 tons worth $163 million in the first two months of the current Iranian year (March 21-May 21), registering a 31% and 34% year-on-year growth in weight and value respectively, according to the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Customs Administration.
In the same period of last year, rice imports stood at 139,000 tons worth $122 million.