M ore than 3.67 million tons of agricultural products worth $3.85 billion were exported from Iran during the eight months to Nov. 21, registering a 3.5% decrease in weight and more than 9% increase in value compared with the corresponding period of last year, the head of Agriculture Commission of Tehran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture said.
“Iran’s trade deficit in the agriculture sector stood at $3.17 billion for the eight-month period. The deficit was at $2.16 billion in last year’s corresponding period,” Kaveh Zargaran also told Financial Tribune.
Imports of agricultural products during the same period stood at around 12.57 million tons worth more than $7 billion, registering a year-on-year increase of 9% and 23% in weight and value respectively.
The official noted that the rise in trade deficit is due to the decrease in the export of apples and pistachios, and the increase in the import of staple foods such as rice, sunflower oil, palm oil, soybean, red meat, field corn, bananas, sugar, barley and soymeal.
> 20% Decline in Pistachio Export Value
Close to 68,680 tons of pistachios worth $628 million were exported during the eight-month period, registering a 22% and 20% decrease in weight and value respectively compared with last year’s corresponding period, Zargaran said.
Pistachio is among Iran’s major non-oil exports.
The main customers of Iranian pistachio are the US, Ukraine, the UAE, Italy, Bahrain, Brazil, Bulgaria, Turkey, Canada, Qatar, Switzerland, France, Poland, Sweden, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Netherlands, Thailand, Japan, Romania and Hong Kong.
According to Deputy Minister of Industries, Mining and Trade Mojtaba Khosrotaj, Iran supplies more than 50% of the world pistachio market and its main rival in pistachio production is the US state of California.
Mahmoud Abtahi, chairman of the board of directors at the Iran Pistachio Association, noted that the amount of pistachio production in Iran in the last fiscal year halved to 180,000 tons, which is the main reason behind the decline in export this year.
Mohsen Jalalpour, the head of Iran Pistachio Association said between 8,000 and 12,000 hectares of Iran’s pistachio orchards are lost annually because of water shortage and soil salinity.
“Land under pistachio cultivation in Iran is currently close to 350,000 hectares while during the 2000s, the figure stood at more than 400,000 hectares,” he said.
Kerman Province in southeast Iran is the country’s biggest producer of pistachio. The province once accounted for 70% of Iran’s pistachio production, but now produces only 30% of all the pistachio grown in the country due to the severe water crisis.
> 7% Fall in Apple Export Value
During the same eight-month period, nearly 155,000 tons of apples worth $65 million were exported from Iran, indicating a 26% and 7% fall in volume and value respectively, Zargaran said.
Abbas Pakpour, the deputy head of Export Promotion Office with the Ministry of Agriculture, has attributed the decline in apple exports to the fact that almost all the stored apples were exported last year and there was not much left in warehouses across the country.
Close to 354,000 tons of apples worth around $110.45 million were exported from Iran in the last fiscal year (March 2016-17), registering a more than 10% increase in weight and 16% fall in value compared with the year before.
“Based on figures released by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Iran is the ninth biggest producer of apples worldwide. In exports, the country ranks ninth in terms of weight and 14th in value. As such, we account for 1.87% and 4.05% of the global production and exports respectively,” he had said in an earlier interview.
The UAE, Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, China, Qatar, Russia, the US, South Korea, Switzerland and France are the main export destinations for Iranian apples.
The three main provinces producing apples in Iran are East and West Azarbaijan and Tehran.
Iran follows China, the US, Poland, India, Turkey, Italy, Chile and Russia in world apple production in a descending order.
> Rice Tops List of Imports
About 1.07 million tons of rice worth more than $1 billion, 407,000 tons of sunflower oil worth $347 million and around $288 million worth of barley were imported into the country over the nine-month period, registering a 93%, 150% and 74% growth respectively in value.
A total of $252 million worth of palm oil, close to $670 million worth of soybean, $296 million worth of frozen boneless red meat, $980 million worth of field corn, $355 million worth of green bananas and $379 million worth of unrefined sugar were imported, registering a 34%, 13%, 32%, 10%, 21% and 52% increase in value compared with the similar period of last year.
“These products constituted the bulk of our agro imports during the period,” Zargaran said.
He added that 804,000 tons of meal worth $323 million were imported, registering a 21% and 19% decrease in weight and value respectively compared with last year’s similar period, though the product was still listed among the country’s main agro imports.
In a letter to Minister of Industries Mohammad Shariatmadari, Agriculture Minister Mahmoud Hojjati has called for reinstating the ban on rice imports until further notice due to excessive imports.
Every year, during the rice harvest season, the government bans rice imports to support local farmers and production. Import tariffs have increased from 22% four years ago to 40% at present for the same reason.
The temporary ban was lifted last month as per the directive of the Ministry of Industries and was supposed to last until July 22, 2018.
“We need imports, but imports that are limited and controlled,” Hojjati said earlier.
Iran imports rice mainly from the UAE, India, Pakistan, Thailand, Turkey and Iraq.
Iranians consume 3 million tons of rice a year while domestic production stands at 2.2 million tons. Therefore, there is a need for around 800,000 tons of imports every year.
According to the Central and West Asia Rice Center, with around 54% of Central and West Asia’s paddy fields located in Iran, the country accounts for 61% of the regions’ combined rice production.
The two northern provinces of Gilan and Mazandaran are home to a majority of Iran’s paddy fields.
Hojjati noted that the agriculture sector accounts for 12% to 13% of Iran’s gross domestic product.
“The sector has created between 19% and 20% of all the jobs in the country,” he was quoted as saying earlier.
According to Eskandar Zand, the head of Agricultural Research, Education and Promotion Organization, the number of farmers reduces by 50,000 every year due to a lack of facilities in the sector.
“Some 50% of the rural population are active in the agriculture sector. The figure for urban population is 5%,” he said.
The agriculture sector expanded by 4.2% in the last Iranian year (March 2016-17) compared to the preceding year, according to the Central Bank of Iran.