Rice Policy, Price Questioned

Rice Policy, Price QuestionedRice Policy, Price Questioned

A former minister says rice production in Iran is not economically feasible because of excess use of water and the government should revise the national development policy giving priority to industries rather than agriculture.

Reviewing the constraints on growing rice, Habiballah Bitaraf, a former energy minister said, while rice grown in the Caspian provinces with abundant rainfall (Gilan, Mazandaran and Golestan) is of high quality and economically viable, this is not the case in the central areas,” Eghtesad news website reported Friday.

“Given the (high) cost of water used for rice cultivation the selling price should be in the range of 120,000 rials ($3.5) a kilo, while on average it is sold for 45,000 rials now,” he added. Iran’s annual rice consumption is around 2.8 million tons. It produces about 2.3 million tons while the rest is imported mainly from India, Pakistan and Thailand.

The former minister’s take on rice prices in the market, however, was unclear and open to question simply because low grade domestic rice is now selling for 45,000 rials a kilo. Top quality of the national staple goes for anything between 75,000-90,000 rials a kg.

Although rice is grown in 15 provinces, it is heavily water intensive. In recent years, with the worsening water crisis economists and environmentalists, both in and outside the government, have increasingly demanded a major rethink in national agriculture strategy, especially in relation to water-intensive crops and horticulture.

Bitaraf said, “Decreasing the volume of water used in the agricultural sector to half, and prioritizing industries over agriculture in dry regions would help improve water efficiency.”

It was not clear why Bitaraf did not give the same counsel to former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who left office in the summer of 2013 with an unusually negative economic record and despite the fact that oil in the international market was then selling above $110 a barrel, which made his government the richest in contemporary Iranian history.

It is officially reported that economic growth in the final years of his administration was in negative territory and the national budget was continuously running deficits even though earnings from oil export alone were more than $100 billion a year.

 Cropping Patterns

Almost all rice in Iran is grown under irrigated conditions in normal soils and yields are high, at 3 to 3.5 tons/hectare for local and 5 to 7 tons/ha for improved varieties. Normally one crop of rice is taken from April/May to August/September with 100 to 130-day varieties, in duration of 110 to 125 days. Some areas in the northern Gilan and Mazandaran provinces are suitable for producing a second crop, but careful thought needs to be given as to whether a short-duration rice crop or a ratoon crop is better or, alternatively, whether another cropping pattern might be more profitable for farmers.

Drought is a problem in specific areas of certain southern provinces, while 200,000 to 300,000 ha in Mazandaran and Khuzestan are affected by salinity. Governments have been making determined efforts to bring in land consolidation at the rate of 1,000 ha per year to introduce farm mechanization.

Key research priorities in Iran are breeding high-yielding quality rice and stabilizing yields through incorporation of genes resistant to blast, which is the major rice disease - bakanae disease, sheath blight and sheath rot are of minor importance. Research on stem borer is focused on biological control, and has so far shown that 80% control can be achieved in farmers’ fields with the release of Trichogramma in floodwater.

Trichogramma is among the smallest parasitic insects that is an efficient destroyer of eggs of more than 200 species of moths and butterflies which are leaf eaters in the larval stage. The insect does not feed on or harm vegetation and is a particularly effective biological control agent because it kills its host before a plant can be damaged.

The Rice Research Institute of Iran (RRII), located in Rasht, in Gilan Province, together with its affiliate in Amol in Mazandaran, is making a concerted effort to increase productivity per unit area so as to attain self-sufficiency. There is further scope for increasing area under rice in the southern provinces, which would raise overall rice production in Iran.