September 28, 2001


Drought and Flood Plague Iran's Rice Crop


A third consecutive year of drought has severely affected Iran’s rice-producing regions. Area planted was reduced as irrigation water was diverted to urban areas. As the crop was approaching maturity in mid-August, torrential rains seriously damaged a quarter of all rice area. Milled rice production for 2001/02 MY is estimated at 1.1 million metric tons, down 5 percent from last year and down 27 percent from the five-year average of 1996-2000. Harvesting of the 2001/02 crop begins this month.

Iran's rice production has been down for the past three years, as a shortage of irrigation water reduced planted area. This year's drought affected 20 of 28 provinces in Iran, with the southern, southeastern, central, and eastern parts of the country being most severely affected. Currently, water is being rationed in most major cities, including the capital, Tehran. Some rural areas are receiving water via tankers. Large amounts of irrigation water have been diverted to offset drinking water shortages. Last year’s drought damaged 25 percent of the rice cultivated areas. A similar situation occurred this year, with cumulative rainfall mirroring last year's poor rainfall in Gilan and Mazandaran provinces.

In addition to a nationwide drought, heavy torrential rains during August 10-13, 2001 triggered devastating floods that damaged rice, cotton, and wheat producing areas of Golestan and Khorasan. The unusual storm system hit the northern provinces of Iran, with Golestan being hardest hit. These floods damaged thousands of hectares of farmland in Iran; claimed hundreds of lives; and washed away roads and houses, causing millions of dollars in damage.

Rice Area Profile

The main areas of rice cultivation in Iran are Mazandaran and Gilan provinces (which produce 80 to 85 percent of the country's rice), with Golestan (Gorgon/Gonbad), Khuzestan, Esfahan, Khorasan, and Zanjan provinces also producing cotton (Figure 1). Iranian rice is long grain, and is generally grown under irrigation in lowland areas. The wet Caspian lowlands in the northern provinces of Gilan and Mazandaran are the primary growing areas, where heavy rainfall typically facilitates paddy cultivation in this sub-tropical, humid region.

Figure 1. Rice Producing Provinces in Iran

Rice season in Gilan and Mazandaran begins in May and the planting period lasts slightly more than 6 weeks. Harvest is from September to October, with some areas harvesting in late October due to cooler weather and less rainfall. Iran's average area under rice cultivation is over 500,000 hectare and average output is 4 tons/hectare. (Figure 2). Yield for traditional rice varieties is 2-4 tons/hectare, but output of high yield varieties is 5-7 tons/hectare. High-yield rice varieties are grown primarily in Gilan, Mazandaran, and Khuzestan provinces.

One of the main problems of rice cultivation and production is the lack of water resources, especially during periods of low rainfall. Irrigation dominates water use in Iran, and surface water storage has been increased by construction of numerous multi-purpose dams and reservoirs along rivers flowing from the Zagos and Elburz mountains. Iran’s major rice producing region within Gilan and Mazandaran provinces is located between the Elburz mountains and the Caspian Sea.

Rice is the second main food consumed in Iran, with wheat being the main staple for most of the population. Bread is the most important single item in the Iranian diet, except in certain parts of the Caspian lowlands. In general, rice consumption in Iran dates back more than 25 centuries, and has risen with increased incomes. The urban areas in Iran largely consume imported rice, making Iran a major importer of rice. Iran imports most of its rice from Thailand, Pakistan, Vietnam, Uruguay, and India, with the majority coming from Thailand.

Figure 2. Rice Production, Harvested Area, and Yield Trends for Iran