Iran wheat imports down to zero amid global crisis
An official says the Iranian government needs no more wheat imports thanks to favorable crop harvest and procurement from local farmers at a time of diminishing grain stocks around the world.
Largely self-sufficient in wheat a decade ago, Iran emerged as one of the world’s biggest importers a few years ago but a raft of measures taken by the government is returning the country to where it was.
“With the government’s measures in recent years, the country has been freed of wheat imports and the volume of imports has reached zero,” the man in charge of the program at Iran’s Ministry of Agriculture Jihad Esmaeil Esfandiari said.
Iran’s last major government-sponsored wheat import in 2011 stood at more than 2.6 million tonnes. Last year, the government purchased about 9 million tonnes of wheat from local farmers out of 11 million tonnes planned.
According to state officials, the country usually maintains a carryover from previous wheat crops and past stocks which cover any shortfall.
Iran faces new US sanctions but a state official says the country’s wheat stocks are robust amid a record purchase of the staple grain from local farmers.
For the current harvest season, the government planned to locally purchase 10.4 million tonnes of wheat, more than 9.3 million tonnes of which was confirmed by a state official to have realized early last month.
Preliminary official estimates included 13.4 million tonnes of wheat as higher yields in the rest of the country offset decreases in the southern planting areas.
Better than expected precipitations resulted in a national harvest of about 20 million tonnes of cereals, similar to last year and about 10 percent above average.
Wheat is the dominant cereal crop accounting for almost 70 percent of the aggregate cereal production in Iran.
Irrigated wheat covers only one-third of the total wheat area of 6.1 million hectares, with the bulk of the wheat crop depending on rainfall. This makes the staple grain susceptible to drought in one of the world’s driest countries, with an average 250 millimeters of rain a year.
Most of the rainfed wheat crop is concentrated in the west and northwestern regions of the country.
Iran’s use of improved seed technology over the past five years has boosted the country’s self-sufficiency in wheat by more than 30%, where all its needs are currently covered by domestic supplies, according to Esfandiari.
Iran is a partner of international CIMMYT and ICARDA programs for breeding resistant wheat varieties in the face of climate change.
Esfandiari said with the implementation of these plans, the yield of wheat will increase by about 25% in rainfed lands and 30% in irrigated areas over the next five years.
Iranian private millers are not allowed to use domestic wheat for flour exports. As a result, they put orders for imports from a variety of producers.
In March, Russia clinched a deal to export up to 1 million tonnes of wheat per year over the next five years to increase the utilization of the Iranian wheat flour mills and consequently expand the Iranian exports of flour.
With US sanctions reimposed in August, however, Iranian shipments might be headed for choppy waters.
Foodstuffs are purportedly not restricted by US sanctions, but banking sanctions and asset freezes are making it difficult for trading houses to do business with Iran.
The United States also appears to be capitalizing on a shortfall in global grain supply, with much higher stocks than rival exporters.
The wheat crop in the world’s biggest exporters such as Argentina, Australia, Canada, the European Union, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine has suffered this year which experienced a scorching hot, dry summer.
Russia and Ukraine, as the Black Sea bread baskets, went through a spring drought, followed by a summer heatwave in the European Union. Australia, another important exporter, is also facing dry weather which threatens its crops.