Iran is the largest country in the Middle East, with a long history in agriculture. Despite its immense oil wealth, a large share of its population, including in rural areas, is suffering from a sluggish economy due to international isolation. Iranian agriculture is facing a number of constraints such as growing water scarcity, soil salinity, high temperature gradient (varying from -35°C at high altitudes to 54°C) and decades of underinvestment. Poor quality seed, outdated farming techniques and unproductive soils due to overuse of fertilisers are some other farming constraints to tackle.
Agriculture accounts for 10% of GDP, employing about 30% of the population. Many farms are smaller than 10 hectares and do not operate at full capacity. Around two-thirds of cultivable land is not in use.
With an average rainfall of 240 mm per year, Iran is a dryland area. Approximately 90% of its territory is classified as arid and semi-arid. Drought is becoming common with average annual losses of around $2.5 billion for the agriculture and livestock sectors. Land has been degraded by over-grazing, cutting of wood for fuel, and severe wind erosion.
The major farming system practiced in the dryland areas is cereal (wheat and barley) and food and feed legumes (chickpea, lentil and some forage crops). Wheat, rice and barley are grown on 70% of cultivated land, with wheat - the country's main staple - accounting for over half of the total crop production. Iran is highly dependent on grain imports, making it susceptible to world price shocks.