Economy, Domestic Economy

Iranian Pistachio Farms Withering Away

Every year, between 12,000 and 15,000 hectares of pistachio farms disappear in Kerman Province.
Every year, between 12,000 and 15,000 hectares of pistachio farms disappear in Kerman Province.

The drought-hit pistachio farms in Kerman Province are dying at a rapid pace.

Until recently, the southern province accounted for 70% of Iran’s pistachio production, but the farms are on the brink of dying out.  

“Kerman’s pistachio industry will last no more than 10 years,” a renowned Kermani pistachio trader, Mohsen Jalalpour, who used to chair Iran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture, was quoted as saying by the Persian weekly Tejarat-e Farda.

“Water shortage is the main issue. Water has been used excessively in Kerman since past few years. Our resources have shrunk in a way that in the future, we will face difficulties in meeting the demand for even drinking water.”

The drought has taken the toll on Kerman’s pistachio farms. Every year, between 12,000 and 15,000 hectares of the farms disappear, according to Jalalpour, while production in each hectare is also on a downward trend.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, there are 400,000 hectares of pistachio farms in Iran. Production is estimated to reach 170,000 tons, meaning less than 500 kilograms will be produced in each hectare, which is considerably low compared to production in Iran’s rival countries such as the United States and Turkey.

Jalalpour says the crisis has reached a level where not even water preservation methods and modern irrigation systems can help improve conditions in the dying pistachio farms that have long been irrigated using inefficient, wasteful traditional methods.

Agriculture accounts for as much as 93% of Kerman’s water consumption.

He suggests moving production to other provinces, although there are those who argue against.

“All the provinces that have the [right soil and climatic] conditions for pistachio cultivation have also been hit by drought,” says Ali Ahmadian, former director general of Iran Pistachio Association.

Another remedy is to save Kerman’s pistachio farms by transporting water from the resources further afield.

However, this would add to the end prices that are already unreasonably high in the domestic market. Domestic consumers account for less than 15% of the demand for Iranian pistachio, which is why producers turn to overseas markets.

In fact, exporters have been losing their competitive edge in the international markets, as rivals offer cheaper prices.

Until recently, Iran and the US accounted for 70-80% of the world’s pistachio production. The two countries have been vying for the top production and export spot over the past several years.

According to the Islamic Republic of Iran Customs Administration, pistachio was Iran’s third biggest exported commodity in the non-oil sector during the first half of the current Iranian year (started March 20), after steel and iron ore, in terms of value.

Iran exported more than 31,400 tons of the delicacy worth $263.6 million during the six-month period, registering a 25% rise in volume and a 27% hike in value compared with last year’s corresponding period.

In the last fiscal year (March 2015-16), exports stood at 118,000 tons worth over $1.2 billion, which showed a 34% decline in weight and a 24% fall in value year-on-year.

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