Iran has launched agricultural cultivation in Kazakhstan, marking its first farmland investment overseas as the Middle Eastern country seeks to secure food supplies amid a lingering drought.
Cultivation has begun over eight hectares of farmland in the Central Asian country, with the next project expected to start in Ukraine in the next few months, Agriculture Ministry’s Mohammad Reza Shafeinia of Iran said.
A similar plan is in the works for Ghana whose agricultural sector accounts for over half of the African nation's gross domestic product and is the world’s second largest cocoa producer.
Water-intensive rice and corn crops as well as oilseeds and livestock inputs have been cited by Agriculture Ministry officials as the target products which Iran seeks to grow on farmlands overseas.
The semi-arid country is awaking to its water shortage vulnerability, rushing through a series of exigency plans to tide over the problem.
Iran has already abandoned a bid to achieve self-sufficiency in wheat, which like many other water-intensive commodities, involves using underground water to produce the staple.
The latest sacrifice is Iran’s renowned watermelons which have sparked a heated debate over whether to ditch growing the staple of many summertime picnics and cookouts.
An overuse of deep reservoirs has left water tables severely depleted and saline and led to environmental damage. With a harsh drought persisting, experts say it will take many decades before Iran’s aquifers recharge and clean up.
Agriculture Minister Mahmoud Hojjati has said the government has envisioned investment on 500,000 hectares of farmland in a number of countries to secure food supplies.
There are plans for long-term leasing of farmlands or ownership of plots over a few 10,000 hectares in the countries with high agribusiness potentials, the minister said.
Hojjati cited Brazil where Iran is pushing for development of 60,000 hectares of land to cultivate agricultural products. Serbia has also welcomed Iran’s investment in its agriculture.
Food prices are a key driver of Iran’s double-digit inflation which shot over 40% under former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad but has fallen to hover around 15% since his departure.
Food security is a serious matter for Iran, given the size of its population which has grown over 80 million and seen its food basket grow smaller.
“Between 38-40% of the Iranian families’ economy is related to food which requires us to build a base for reducing prices of nutritional products and providing for facile access to them,” Shafeinia said.