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Iran drought damages rice fields in North

TEHRAN, Iran, August 17, 1999 - Iran's worst drought in 30 years has partially damaged more than 50 percent of the rice fields in Iran's northern Gilan province, experts were yesterday quoted as saying.

"Agriculture experts of Gilan province in northern Iran announced that due to drought more than 50 percent of the total 215,000 hectares of paddy fields in the province have been partially damaged," the official IRNA news agency reported.

It quoted the experts as saying that recent rain "came too late to be of any benefit to the lands under cultivation."

Rice production in the Caspian Sea coastal province was expected to fall this year by 150,000 tonnes to half a million tonnes, IRNA quoted the experts as saying.

"Farmers of Gilan too have voiced their concern and said that this was the most difficult year for cultivation and rice growers are not in favourable economic conditions," IRNA said.

"They said that because of drought and incurred expenses of drilling water wells, they have to sell rice at cheaper prices to merchants," it added.

Iran, a major food importer, has suffered its most severe drought in 30 years. Recent floods had eased concerns over the drought, although the floods have damaged farmlands which produce wheat, rice and cotton.

Agriculture Minister Issa Kalantari told Reuters last month that a quarter of the country's rice fields had been destroyed by the drought and that rice production had been forecast at 1.7 million tonnes but production could fall below 1.4 million.

The government is being forced to increase rice imports by 250,000 tonnes to a total 800,000 tonnes this year to alleviate the fall in domestic production.