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About 90% of Iran is arid or semi-arid land. After years of underinvestment and international isolation, most Iranian farmers have meagre harvests. ICRISAT's research collaboration with Iran includes drought mitigation and improving dryland productivity through community watershed management, crop improvement and better pest control, especially for chickpea production. 

240 mm - Average annual rainfall in Iran

30% - Share of Iran's population  engaged in agriculture

$2.5 billion - Average annual losses  caused to Iran’s agricultural and livestock sectors by drought

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General context

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 Poor quality seed, outdated farming techniques and unproductive soils due to overuse of fertilisers are some other farming constraints to tackle.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.

ICRISAT research in Iran


ICRISAT collaborates with the Government of Iran through the Agricultural Research, Extension and Education Organization (AREEO) of the Ministry of Jihad-e-Agriculture.

Since 1997, Iran has been a member of the Cereals and Legumes Asia Network (CLAN), and benefits from regional crop research collaboration in sorghum, chickpea and groundnut.

Chickpea is an important legume crop in Iran but yields are as low as 350 kg/ha because of poor quality seeds, devastating pests and challenging agroclimatic conditions. The development of diagnostic tools for legume viruses, high-yielding chickpea varieties resistant to diseases like fusarium wilt, and defining integrated chickpea pest management methods are some of the impacts of ICRISAT's research. Training in modern plant improvement techniques, eg sorghum tissue culture transformation and genetic engineering help build the capacity of Iran's plant breeders.

ICRISAT is also helping to strengthen Iran's national genebank at Karaj and there are regular germplasm exchanges of millets, sorghum, groundnut and chickpea.

ICRISAT regularly exchanges experiences and best practices in watershed and natural resource management. Promoting low-cost soil and water conservation practices that could be undertaken by the community is a key strategy to sustainably improve dryland productivity.

Research cooperation also includes better post-harvest management, for instance using ICRISAT's experience in aflatoxin management to improve mycotoxin food control in cereals and pistachio value chains.

Iran is an active partner in the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Cereals, especially for barley.

Iranian scientists monitoring international chickpea trials in Kermanshahr. 

An Iranian farmer with this groundnut crop
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