By Maysam Bizaer for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iran Business News.
Iran is among the top wheat consumers in the world. Consumption per capita in the country is estimated at 167.6 kilograms (369 pounds) per year, almost three times the global average of some 67 kilograms (148 pounds).
At the same time, Iran is one of the driest countries in the world, with an average rainfall of only 250 mm (10 inches) a year, causing huge water shortages across the country. This has turned the supply of wheat to meet domestic needs into one of the main concerns of successive governments, forcing reliance on imports at major costs.
A review of imports shows that Iran over the past 15 years spent some $12.6 billion on buying more than 42 million tons of wheat. Meanwhile, the country has simultaneously sought to attain self-sufficiency, which on occasion has led to success in either reducing or almost halting imports. However, these achievements were not sustainable, mainly due to mismanagement and climate conditions.
In 2004, under the presidency of Reformist Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005), Iran marked self-sufficiency in wheat production for the first time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The Khatami administration also formulated a 10-year plan that outlined initial steps to reduce imports, and envisioned strategies aimed at sustaining production in times of drought.
The plan, however, was put aside under the administration of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-2013) and the country once again became reliant on imports to meet domestic needs, buying over 25.7 million tons of wheat during his two terms in power.
But things began to change when President Hassan Rouhani took office in August 2013. His government has been taking a series of measures over the past four years to not only reduce imports significantly, but also to boost production to a level that has enabled Iran to achieve self-sufficiency once again. With a record high output of 14 million tons last year, Iran has become an exporter of the strategic product; in June, the country sold wheat abroad for the first time in years.