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Organic Agriculture in Iran - Country Report

by Hossein Mahmoudi and Abdolmajid Mahdavi Damghani

Agriculture in Iran

Iran occupies a vast area of land with a diverse climatic conditions and hence a rich biological diversity. It has been evidenced that the country has been one of the centers of evolution of agriculture. Humans settled in this part of the world some 10'000 years ago for agricultural activities. Traditional small scale farming was the main structure of farming communities for centuries and this has caused a tremendous accumulation of indigenous knowledge in farming practices and food production (Koocheki, 2004).

Iranian traditional agriculture looks a lot like organic agriculture in many ways. For example, some products from the mountainous regions are completely managed according to organic principles. There are several reasons to argue that there is a good capacity in Iranian field crop cultivation for making the transition to organic agriculture.

About 86 percent of farmers in Iran are smallholders which manage near 40 percent of arable lands in Iran, mainly use for producing high-value cash crops such as rice, saffron and vegetables (Mahmoudi et al, 2007). Smallholders cultivate much of the land without recourse to agrochemicals, and traditional mixed farming systems remain prevalent. In small farming system which account for more than 80 percent of agricultural products of the country still ecological practices are prevalent.

These include:

  • Diversified crop, animal husbandry integrated
  • Use of animal manure, wastes and by-products for soil improvements
  • Biological pest and diseases control
  • Community cooperation, family labor and local market orientation (Koocheki, 2004).

Organic agriculture will enable Iranian smallholders to achieve household food security and gain better incomes while regenerating the land, enhancing biodiversity, and supplying quality food to local communities. 

The potential for organic agriculture in Iran

Organic agriculture combines modern scientific research with traditional farming techniques in a sustainable, efficient farming system. By working with natural processes and making use of locally available possessions, poor smallholder farmers can build up the fertility and productivity of their farms while avoiding dependence on expensive external inputs.

Growing markets for certified produce mean that organic agriculture offers an important opportunity for the rural poor in developing countries to benefit from international trade.

On the other hand, there is an increasing public concern about food safety, but only a few people really know about organic farming. A recent survey indicated that there is lack of information on organic farming (Ghorbani et al, 2007). The organic industry still has a long way to go in Iran.

Organically cultivated area in Iran

At present, producers do not pay certification costs; these are borne by the exporter, who has to arrange for inspections by foreign certification bodies. Currently (2007), there are 1'113 hectares of certified organic land in the country; of these, 200 hectares are wild collection areas.

Furthermore there are cases such as an organically managed 85 hectare olive orchard or 22'000 hectares of figs, which are not certified. The products are sold on the local market. 

 

Table: Land use in organic agriculture in Iran 2007

CropOrganic area (hectares)

Saffron

13

Figs

4

Grapes

625

Citrus

12

Date palm

26

Pomegranate

152

Almonds

60

Walnuts

11

Liquorice (wild collection)

200

Pumpkin

10

Total

1113

Source: Shahid Beheshti University, Environmental Sciences Research Institute, Evin, based on certifier data.

Standards, certification and regulation

 A first version of a national guideline for organic production and labeling for Iran was released by the Institute of Standards and Industrial Research of Iran in January 2009. As a guideline it does not have the status of a law. The Insitute of Standards and Industrial research has also published a vocabulary  on terms related to organic farming.

Work in an organic label is currently in progress.

The first draft of standards "Organic wild harvest: Plant collection guideline" was submitted to the Institute of Standards on March 2009, and it is expected to be finalized in July 2009. 

Recently, activities to prepare national organic standards have accelerated by the cooperation of Shahid Beheshti University, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Institute of Standards and Industrial Research of Iran.

Government policies and NGO activities regarding organic agriculture

The government has started a program to reduce the use of agrochemicals.

Governmental subsidies on agrochemicals have been reduced dramatically during 2007 which is a remarkable sign for developing organic agriculture in the country. Furthermore, the 'Committee on Organic Agriculture' has recently been established in the Ministry of Agriculture in order to make policy and provide action plan for development of organic agriculture in Iran.

At present, there are two NGOs in Iran which are active in introducing and promoting organic farming in the country: Iranian Scientific Society of Agroecology (ISSA) and the Iran Organic Association IOA.

Research and education

Recently, research programs on organic agriculture production, processing and marketing were started, carried out by several institutions, including the Environmental Sciences Research Institute of Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran.

Also, the postgraduate course on agroecology which commenced on 2007, has been extended to more universities including the Universities of Ferdowsi (Mashad), Shahid Beheshti (Tehran), Birjand, Shahrekord, Gorgan and Shahrood.

Furthermore, more than 56 full text and abstract articles related to different aspects of organic farming were submitted and presented at the “Second Iranian National Symposium on Agroecology”.

The Iranian scientific society of agroecology ISSA conducted regular meetings on sustainable agriculture in 2008. An important part of these sessions focused on organic agricultures and strategies for its development in Iran. A book entitled 'an introduction to organic agriculture' was published. It discusses issues of global as well as national importance, the conditions and prospects of organic agriculture.

Literature

Koocheki, A. (2004). Organic farming in Iran. 6th IFOAM-Asia Scientific Conference "Benign Environment and Safe Food", 7th – 11th September 2004. Yangpyung/ Korea.

Mahmoudi, H., H. Liaghati and Majid Zohari (2007). The Role of Organic Agriculture in Achieving the Millennium Development Goals: challenge and Prospects in Iran. Conference of Tropentag 2007: Utilisation of diversity in land use systems:  Sustainable and organic approaches to meet human needs. October 9 - 11, 2007, Witzenhausen, Germany

Mahmoudi, H. and A. Mahdavi  Damghani  (2008): Country Report Iran. In: Willer/Yussefi-Menzler/Sorensen (2008): The Word of Organic Agriculture. Statistics and Emerging Trends 2008. IFOAM, Bonn and FiBL, Frick. Pages 11-112 

Mahmoudi, H., A. Mahdavi Damghani, H. Liaghati. (2008). An introduction to organic agriculture. Mashad jihad Daneshgahi Press. Mashad. Iran.

Ghorbani, M., H. Mahmoudi and H. Liaghati. (2007). Consumers Demands and Preferences for Organic Foods: A Survey Study in Mashad, Iran. 3rd International Conference of QLIF: Improving Sustainability in Organic and Low Input Food Production Systems, held in at the University of Hohenheim, Germany, March 21-23, 2007