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Iranian Agriculture, Needs of Tomorrow, Realities of Today

By Engineer Rafi Eftekhar
Mazra'eh [Farm];
News, Analytical & Educational (Monthly)
Oct. 1997, No. 7
Pages: 17-19

Summary: The agriculture sector in Iran accounted for 27.5 percent of the domestic gross product (GDP), 24.7 percent of non-oil exports and 27 percent of employment opportunities from 1989 to 1992.

The per capita protein consumption in Iran was 19.9 grams in 1991 of which 16.8 grams came from domestic products and 3.1 grams from imported products.

In order to cope with its annual population growth of 1.5 to two million people, Iran has to produce or import an additional 400,000 tons of wheat, 100,000 tons of rice, 15,000 tons of white meat and so on in the next two decades.

A glance at the features and potentialities of the agriculture sector in Iran indicates that this sector is capable of meeting such needs as economic development, foods needed by the population, economic and social welfare, employment and so on.

Safeguarding the national independence, meeting the ever increasing needs for agricultural products and facilitating the progress of other economic sectors are among the vital roles of this sector which by absorbing a low volume of input against the huge volume of output (products) can minimize economic dependency.

Emphasis has always been placed on attaining self-sufficiency in producing agricultural products, but in practice and despite all the efforts made, our country is still facing such problems as high rate of population growth, lack of self-sufficiency in producing crops and low level of per capita animal protein consumption.

Position of agriculture sector

The agriculture sector has always enjoyed a special position in the country's economic structure. The potential facilities at our disposal (such as vast fertile lands, diversity of ecology, considerable share of rural areas in population and employment, economic advantages such as the relative advantage of investment in this sector and the likes) bear testimony to the special position of the agriculture sector in the Iranian economy.

A look at the upward trend of nutrition in Iran shows that the food available in Iran in 1961 contained 2,050 calories and the figure increased to 3,217 calories in 1992.

With regards to per capita need for energy and other nutritious materials and according to the World Health Organization (WHO) indexes, the supply of food in Iran (agricultural and animal products including imported foodstuffs and changes in reserves minus exports, seed consumption, wastes and other consumption) met 89 percent of domestic needs in 1961 and 140 percent of needs in 1992.

Studies indicate that in 1988-1992 period, the energy obtained from herbal resources with an annual growth of 5.8 percent on the average accounted for 90 percent of energy supplies, and energy obtained from animal products with an annual growth of 3.7 percent on the average provided the remaining 10 percent energy supplies in 1992. Meanwhile, the average protein supply in the said period was 77.3 grams of which 76 percent came from herbal products and 24 percent from animal protein and supplementary nutritious materials in 1992.

Material containing animal protein with an annual growth of 4.7 percent on the average climbed from 17.2 grams in 1988 to 20.7 grams in 1992, with the average consumption standing at 18.6 grams in the said period (1).

The agriculture sector is among the most important and mightiest economic sectors in the country's foodstuff distribution system. During the 1989-1992 period, of the First Economic Development Plan, this sector accounted for 27.5 percent of the gross domestic products, 24.7 percent of non-oil exports and 27 percent of employment opportunities. Meanwhile, 83 percent of foodstuff supply and a considerable share of the raw materials needed by industries were provided by this sector.

In the course of the First Development Plan, the agriculture sector with an annual 5.9 percent increase in value added met 71 percent of the gross per capita energy supply and 79 percent of the gross per capita protein supply.

Farming and horticulture with an average 3.5 percent increase in value added per year met 89 percent of production related energy and 76 percent of production related protein, and the animal husbandry and fisheries sectors with an annual 10 percent growth met the remaining 11 percent of production related energy and 24 percent of production related protein (2) (tables one and two).

According to statistics released by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 1986, per capita consumption of herbal protein in the developed countries has been less than the world average and in the developing countries, that is, 43.1 grams per day for each person against the world average of 43.3 grams and 47.3 grams in the developing states. This is while, per capita consumption of animal protein in the developed states is approximately 2.5 times the world average and 4.5 times the per capita consumption in the developing countries or in other words, 58 grams in the developed states against the world average of 24.1 grams and 12.7 grams in the developing states.

In our country, per capita protein consumption in 1991 has been estimated at 19.9 grams, of which 16.8 grams came from domestic products and 3.1 grams from imports. Altogether, the share of meat (either red meat, poultry or fish) has accounted for 59 percent of per capita animal protein consumption (including red meat with 5.25 grams, poultry with 3.89 grams, fish with 2.24 grams, dairy products with 6.48 grams and eggs with 1.84 grams).

Although per capita animal protein consumption in the country (19.9 grams) is a good figure compared to that of developing countries (12.7 grams), FAO has put the acceptable level of protein requirements of each person weighing 60 kilograms on the average at 79 grams (either herbal or animal) and has proposed an average protein consumption of 29 grams per day for each person. So one can conclude that in order to meet the food requirements of the country's population in the next 20 years, it is necessary that the production of animal protein be increased three folds. However, to reach such a figure in order to prevent malnutrition and qualitatively improve the nutrition of the public, many serious obstacles and problems should be overcome.

Because 60 percent of livestock in Iran are sheep and goat whose breeding in a closed system is very expensive, doing such a job under present circumstances is not economical. For this reason, rearing light livestock in the form of combined animal husbandry which depends solely on grasslands and agricultural wastes has increased, thus boosting grazing and bringing gradual destruction to pastures. Today, we are a witness to light cattle being fed under favorable conditions and to natural resources being destroyed gradually (3).

Population and food

The country's population in 1901 was only 10 million people which with a growth rate of 0.4 percent increased to 24 million 75 years later in 1976.

Based on statistics, the population of the country then reached 60 million people after the passage of 18 years.

According to the figures of the first public census conducted in 1956, the population of the country was nearly 19 million people 70 percent of whom lived in rural areas. This figure, according to the public census of 1991, reached 57.2 million people of whom 43 percent lived in rural areas.

The rate of population growth in urban areas from 1986 to 1991 was 4.1 percent against 1.7 percent, less than half, in rural areas.

A comparison between the areas of lands under cultivation and the population during the 1976-1991 period shows that the population density has increased from 1.7 persons per hectare in 1956 to 2.3 persons per hectare in 1966, 2 persons per hectare in 1976, 2.9 persons per hectare in 1986 and finally 3 persons per hectare at present.

The population growth rate is caused by the disharmonious change in demographic composition and outbreak of the phenomenon of young population which in turn increases the burden of production. On the other hand, population concentration in cities and inclination towards urbanization entails such negative impacts as spread of poverty, unequal distribution of incomes, offering more services to cities, more consumption, change in consumption pattern and unequal distribution of foodstuffs and the likes. Moreover, immigration to cities has served to increase the population living on the outskirts of cities and the majority of immigrants because of having no skill have been engaged in false and unreal services and occupations, thus causing numerous difficulties for the economy of the country as well as social disorders and harms.

With the population continuing to grow at its current rate, it will exceed 67 million people by the year 1999 and it is predicted to reach 100 million people in the next 20 years. This will naturally entail a change in income pattern and an increase in demands for foodstuffs.

Supposing that the rural population will continue to decline in the future as it did in the past 35 years, it will constitute 30 to 35 percent of the total population in the next 20 years. At that time, the rural population, besides meeting its own needs for food, should provide foodstuffs for the remaining 65 to 70 percent of the population. This demands sustainable agricultural development and adoption of proper policies and strategies to attain this goal.

On the other hand, the importance of supplying foods becomes more known when we take into account the fact that the country has to produce, if possible, or import additional 400,000 tons of wheat, 100,000 tons of rice, 12,000 tons of grains, 500,000 tons of sugar and sugar cube, 18,000 tons of vegetable oil, 15,000 tons of white meat, 25,000 tons of red meat, 140,000 tons of dairy products and thousands of tons of other crops for 1.5 to two million people who are added to its population every year, without taking into account the change in consumption pattern. Therefore, demands will increase 1.5 to 2 folds with regards only to the population growth factor and without taking into account other factors involved such as the change in income, and level of demands for foodstuffs. So, if the country's existing capacities cannot respond to the needs of population, it will tilt the balance between production and consumption and will increase the country's dependency on imports (4).


(1) Norouzi, Farrokhara, Production and Supply of Food in Iran, Agricultural Economy and Development monthly, second year, autumn of 1994, page 39

(2) Norouzi, Farrokhara, Production and Supply of Food in Iran, Agricultural Economy and Development monthly, second year, autumn of 1994, page 40

(3) Speech delivered by the minister of construction jihad at a conference on world food day, Jihad monthly, No. 158, pages 5 and 6

(4) Norouzi, Farrokhara, Production and Supply of Food in Iran, Agricultural Economy and Development monthly, second year, autumn of 1994, pages 46 and 47

Table one: Value added to agriculture sector during 1988-1992 period

Average Growth
Value added of agriculture sector at the fixed prices of 1982*
Cattle breeding and hunting

Source: Reports on national accounts, Economic Account Department 1989-1992
The average growth of the value added of agriculture sector during the First Development Plan (1989-1993) has been 5.9 percent

Table two: Composition of food production and supply in Iran based on percentage of starch, fat and protein input

Starch Consumption
Starch Production
Fat Consumption
Fat Production
Protein Consumption
Protein Production

WHO recomondations


Source: Institute for Research on Foodstuff and Food Industries, Center for Studies on Agricultural Economy and Planning