EghtesadOnline: A total of 86,367 tons of rice worth $78.14 million were imported into Iran from the beginning of the current fiscal year on March 21 to July 6, marking a 70% decline in both weight and value compared with the similar period of last year, according to the deputy head of the Islamic Republic of Iran Customs Administration, Mehrdad Jamal Orounaqi.
The seasonal ban imposed on rice imports has been lifted in the current Iranian year as per the decision of the Market Regulation Headquarters, affiliated with the Ministry of Industries, Mining and Trade.
The headquarters agreed to go forth with the decision after taking into account this year’s estimated domestic production, imports and matters involved in 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 is met.
The headquarters recently addressed a letter to the Islamic Republic of Iran Customs Administration’s Import and Export Bureau, ordering rice consignments that have arrived at the customs terminals by June 21 to undergo clearance, adding that the measure should 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 Faramak Aziz-Karimi, the Agriculture Ministry’s director general of Grains and Essential Goods Department, 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 some 8% of the annual harvest.
Rice is a staple food in Iran and 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, registering a 31% and 34% year-on-year growth in weight and value respectively, according to the Islamic Republic of Customs Administration.
In the same period of last year, rice imports stood at 139,000 tons worth $122 million.
A total 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 has been predicted this year, according to the Agriculture Ministry’s director general of Grains and Essential Goods Department.
“In the 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,” Aziz-Karimi was also 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, are estimated to decline by close to 24% and 22% respectively compared with last year,” Aziz-Karimi added.
The water crisis in Iran has exacerbated 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.