IRAN

About the Potato Atlas Archives...
 
The first World Potato Atlas was developed at the International Potato Center (Centro Internacional de la Papa, or CIP) in the 1980s and maintained for several years -- primarily by Robert Rhoades, Robert Hijmans, and Luisa Huaccho -- to provide country-specific information about potato production, constraints, and uses.  A newer version of the atlas, providing updated and more detailed information of a limited selection of countries, was initiated in 2006.  
 
The "atlas archives" included here are based on chapters of the original effort which so far have not been substantially updated.  Although some of this information is clearly obsolete, some remains relevant, at least for historical background.
 

HISTORY AND OVERVIEW

Laufer (1938) credits Sir John Malcolm with introducing the potato to the Court of Persia while on a diplomatic mission from 1800 to 1810, during his tenure as an emissary to the court of Persia from the British colonial government of India.  The potato is known as "Malcolm's Plum" (atuyi Malkam) and in Persian Sib-i Zamini or Sib-i Zir Zamien ("earth apple").  Little information is available concerning the crop's subsequent diffusion.  However, the continuing use of local cultivars such as Pashandi and Istambouli - which are preferred for their culinary qualities - indicate a long history of local cultivation in the mountainous north (George, 1978).
 
By 1975, potato was planted in nearly all provinces of the country and ranked third behind rice and wheat as a staple food (Avval, 1976; Shamoradi, 1985).  Although Iran is clearly one of the largest potato growers in the Central Asia, reliable data on recent production are scarce or non-existent.  Estimates of 1982 production range from 768,000 tons (Joughin, 1984) to 1,814,000 tons (FAO, 1986).  Some disruption very likely occurred with events in the late 1970s, as the import of seed potatoes from Europe ceased, to resume somewhat sporadically in 1985 (Shamoradi, 1986).  (Note: FAO reports total production for 2004 at over four million tons, reflecting general increases in both area cultivated and average yields over the past twenty years.)
 

GEOGRAPHY AND PRODUCTION ZONES

Potatoes are grown in almost all provinces of Iran, a country of great climatic extremes from deserts to the humid Caspian littoral (Avval, 1977; Askari, 1975). However, there are three major potato regions:

  • The Elburz Mountains form a narrow band around the southern shore of the Caspian Sea. Potatoes are a major crop here, grown from Tabriz in the northwest to Mashhad in the northeast. Other centers of production in the Elburz include Ardabil, Zanjan, and Gorgan.
  • Potatoes are also an important crop in the Zagros Mountains which trend southeastward from the western portion of the Elburz range toward the center of Iran. Important areas are Hamadan, Arak, Faridan, and Isfahan.  Potato production in both southern and northern highlands generally occurs at elevations between 1000 and 2000 masl probably and accounts for more than 90 percent of the area grown (George, 1978).
  • Some scattered production also occurs in the arid lowlands of southern Iran near the Persian Gulf, especially in Fars, the area around Bandar Abbas, and parts of Baluchistan, Khuzestan, and Shiraz (Schmiediche et al., 1986; Fisher, 1986).
     

PRODUCTION SYSTEMS AND CONSTRAINTS

Cropping Calendar
 
In the southern lowlands, potatoes are generally planted in November and harvested in March; the rest of the year is too hot. Only about five percent of the production occurs in this area (George, 1978). In the Zagros mountains, except for the highest growing areas, planting occurs as early as February with harvests three to four months later. In the Elburz Mountains and parts of the Zagros such as Hamadan, planting usually occurs in March or April, but may be delayed until late May in cold years. Harvest generally occurs in October. This planting has become the most important, accounting for over 90 percent of production. The Gorgon area on the north flank of the Elburz range is favored by a moist, mild climate year round. Here potatoes are often planted in January/February for harvest in May/June (Schmiediche et al., 1986).
 
Cultivation Practices
 
Except for the arid, irrigated south, potato production in Iran must be understood in the context of mountain agriculture, where holdings are small and most labor is by hand. For seed bed preparation, farmers often plough land once or twice.  Many farmers plant on flat ground with no ridges or rows in small holes (6-8 centimeters deep) and cover with soil. 
 
The seed rate is high, with plants spaced 40 centimeters (cm) in rows 80-100 cm apart.  No earthing up is done.  Since tubers are close to the surface, greening of tubers in the fields is common (Alam, 1974-1976). 
 
Potatoes commonly alternate with wheat, vegetables, sugar beets, and fallow in three or four year rotations. Common field rotations are: potato-wheat-fallow and potatoes-vegetables (e.g. cucumber) fallow (Alam, 1974-1976)
 
Most farmers apply both organic and inorganic fertilizers.  Avval (1975) reports the following applications: 10-20 tons manure; 150-200 kilograms (kg) urea; 200 kg ammonium phosphate; and 100-150 kg potassium sulphate.
 
Yields are often quite high, 25 tons per hectare being common, but this is offset by labor costs. In the lowlands mechanization is widely used for land preparation, planting, and harvesting.
 
Production Constraints
 
Viral diseases, particularly leaf roll (PLRV) and PVY, and mosaics are severe problems, exacerbated by interregional trade of seed tubers and cultural practices such as cutting seed tubers prior to planting, which can introduce infection. Mosaic infestation of 30-95 percent of seed stocks are common. The most serious bacterial disease is blackleg (Erwinia spp.). Fungal diseases include late blight (Phytopthora infestans), fusarium wilt (Fusarium spp.), and black rot (Colletotrichum spp.) (Shamoradi, 1985; Schmiediche et al., 1986).
 
Major insect pests include thrips, aphids, leaf-hoppers, and spider mites. Colorado potato beetles were reported in 1984, though their significance to Iranian production is not yet clear.
 

VARIETIES AND SEED SYSTEMS

Varieties
 
Local varieties such as Pashandi and Istambouli are valued for their cooking qualities. In 1977 these two varieties accounted for 60 percent of the area planted (CIP, 1977). Other popular local varieties are Mahalli and Damavandi (Alam, 1974-1976). Pashandi has yielded up to 40 tons per hectare in the past but appears to be degenerating.  Cosima, originally imported from the Netherlands, is highly regarded for its high yields, good storage characteristics, and taste, has been locally multiplied in many areas for over 10 years. Other varieties imported in the 1970s, mainly from West Germany and the Netherlands include Alpha, Draga, Desiree, Spartaan, and Baraka.  The 1985 importation included Aola, Desiree, Draga, Spartaan, and Cosima (Shamoradi, 1986).
 
Seed Systems
 
Virtually all seed is obtained by farmers through an informal supply system (Schmiediche et al., 1986). Most farmers save a portion of their harvest for seed or buy uncertified seed tubers at local markets. There is considerable trade of seed potatoes between farmers located in the various production zones. Unfortunately, since these are virtually all uncertified, this practice has accelerated the spread of diseases, especially viruses, to areas where they had been unknown. (Schmiediche et al., 1986).
 
Before 1986, no basic seed was produced in Iran.  A program was established in the mid-1970's to multiply and distribute certified seed imported from Europe, but this was interrupted from 1979 to 1985. The present program imported 1,060 tons of certified seed in 1985. Of this, 60 tons were multiplied to 255 tons at the Tajarak Research Station near Hamadan, and the remainder distributed to selected contract farmers for multiplication, yielding 3,000 tons. At present, the scope of the program is limited by a ventilated storage capacity of only 3,600 tons. The present program can meet only a very small proportion of the 250,000 t of seed potatoes used annually by farmers (Schmiediche et al., 1986; Shamoradi, 1986).
 

CONSUMPTION, STORAGE AND MARKETING

Consumption
 
Potatoes are the third most important food crop in Iran, after rice and wheat.  Potatoes are eaten boiled and as chips and french fries.  Small yellow fleshed potatoes of local landraces are preferred for cooking and culinary qualities.  Estimates from the mid-1980s indicate average per capita consumption at 30 kg, representing 1.9 percent of total calories.  Both consumption and proportion of total calories are generally greater for those living in major producing areas and the major cities (Shamoradi, 1985; Schmiediche et al., 1986; FAO, 1986).  (Note: By FAO estimates for 2004, average per capita consumption has roughly doubled, to about 60 kilogams, since the first atlas was produced in the mid 1980s.)  
 
Potato processing is mainly limited to small units and potato chip factories (Shamoradi, 1985; Alam, 1974).  In 1970, a glucose plant was reportedly in operation that processed 500 tons of potatoes per day when operating (Lambert, 1970).
 
Storage
 
Depending on location and season, potatoes are commonly stored on farms in rooms of houses, outbuildings, or traditional ventilated stores.  These are 10-20 meters long, up to 5-6 meters wide and about 4 meters deep. The stores are buried to a depth of about 2.5 meters.  They have a number of vents about a meter apart emerging from the top of the rounded roof.  The floor the store is covered first with dry sand and then with straw, on top of which the tubers are piled. Storage losses may exceed 30 percent, particularly when tubers are harvested immature.  Iran has no refrigerated stores for potatoes.
 
Marketing
 
Virtually all of Iran's potato crop is sold in the country. There are well established market linkages connecting the major producing areas to Tehran and other major cities, as well as to each other.  Since different production zones produce at different times of year there is usually a market for their crops.  Price fluctuation, however, can be severe (Shamoradi, 1985; Schmiediche et al., 1986).  Farmers respond to prices by reducing area under cultivation.  Sometimes they harvest early to catch higher prices, although to the detriment of product quantity and quality (Alam, 1974-1976).
 

REFERENCES

Alam, Z., 1974. Report on Cultivation of Potato in Iran and its Improvement. FAO/UN. 34 pp. Typescript. (Series 1 and 2).
 
Askari, H.R. 1975. Report on Potato Production in Iran International Potato Course. International Agricultural Center.. Wageningen, Netherlands.
 
Avval, M.Z. 1976. Report on Potato Production in Iran.  International Potato Course: Production, Storage, and Seed Technology. Report of Participants. International Agricultural Center, Wageningen, Netherlands.
 
CIP. 1977. Country Profile: Iran, 4pp. Typescript.
 
FAO 1986. Basic Data Unit, Production Account, Unpublished May 1986 Update.
 
Fisher, W. B., 1986. Iran.  Physical and Social Geography. In: The Middle East and North Africa 1987, pp. 392-393, 33rd edition. London: Europe.
 
George, R. 1978. Vegetable Production in Iran.  World Crops. September/October. pp 208-209.
 
Joughin, J. 1984. Markets for Pakistani Potatoes: A Preliminary Investigation. Tropical Development and Research Institute, London.
 
Lambert, C. World Atlas of Potatoes. In Pomme de Terre Fr. Vo. 32, No. 337 (March/April, 1970). pp 27-29. (SSD.).
 
Laufer, B. 1938. The American Plant Migration. Part I: The Potato Anthropology Series. Field Museum of Natural History. Volume 28, No. 1. Publication 418. Chicago.
 
Schmiediche, P., G. Robertson, & A. Haverkort, 1986. Report on a Visit to the Islamic Republic of Iran to Review Potato Cultivation, Research, and Prospects for Crop Improvement. International Potato Center, Lima. Typescript.
 
Shamoradi, Z., 1985.. Potato Production in Iran International Potato Course: Production, Storage, and Seed Technology. Report of Participants. International Agricultural Center, Wageningen, Netherlands.
 
 

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