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News

The processing tomato industry in Iran - part 1

29/07/2021 - Shruti Sasidharan
Iran, one of the largest economies in the Middle East, after Saudi Arabia had gone through an economic downturn over the past years due to prolonged international sanctions, weakening currency, high inflation rate resulting in various food security shocks. Sharing borders with Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey and Turkmenistan, the country today is the 7th largest producer of tomatoes in the world. Tomatoes are cultivated virtually all year in different parts of the country due to the country’s diverse climatic conditions. Cold regions such as Khorasan, Zanjan, and Golestan, for instance, produce tomatoes in hot seasons, whereas tropical regions such as Fars and Bushehr produce tomatoes in cold seasons.
 
Tomato is cultivated throughout the country, except the Northern provinces. We have witnessed significant growth in the production of tomatoes in the last 5-6 years and as a result farmers prefer cultivating tomatoes rather than other horticultural crops like cucumbers and peppers. Currently, open cultivation is being replaced by greenhouse and hydroponic farming. Despite the pandemic, Iran has been able to achieve increased agricultural productivity in FY20-21.”- Dr. Ardalan Ghilavizadeh, Senior Agriculture Consultant, Agriculture and Natural Resources Engineering Organisation of Tehran Province
 
The province of Fars ranks first in Iran with about 17 percent share of tomato production in the country. More than 7000 hectares of land is devoted to tomato production in provinces of Kermanshah and Kurdistan, for the fresh and processed markets.
 
According to official reports, in 2020, about 951,000 tonnes tomatoes were produced in the Fars province alone. It is interesting to note that over 333,000 tons of greenhouse tomatoes were cultivated in 2018-19 on an area spanning 1200 hectares.
 
Presently, greenhouse tomatoes have a 6% share in the country’s overall tomato production. Keeping this in mind, Iran plans to expand greenhouse cultivation to reach production volumes of 682,000 tonnes by 2022, with the Bushehr Province becoming the first out-of-season tomato producer in the country. The annual production volumes of tomatoes in this region is about 560,000 tonnes.
 
BASF Iran has developed processing tomato varieties named Advance and Nun6216 which are used by most processors in the region. The total produce goes to processing factories in the different provinces of Iran.”- Kianoosh Kamrouz, Country Manager-Vegetable seeds, BASF Iran

SUN 6216 variety- Other local dual-purpose varieties include Seminis 4129, Ismir, Hirad, Dafnis, etc.

In 2019, Tala F1 (developed by Semillas Fito Seed Company), Iran’s first determinate tomato variety was introduced to the farmers in the Western Provinces of Kermanshah and Kurdistan. According to official statistics, more than 7000 hectares of land is devoted to tomato production in provinces of Kermanshah and Kurdistan, for the fresh and processed markets.
 
Kianoosh Kamrouz says, one of the main challenges faced by importers is the prolonged international sanctions, shortage of currency and a control on imports by the government. Iran has a high inflation rate which has impacted the agriculture and seed industry significantly. Hence, the number of smuggled seeds entering the country has spiked drastically over the years. All of these factors have directly or indirectly led to an up rise in the rent of land which is almost 45 times more in the current year, resulting in surface reduction and an ever-escalating production cost. This year the country has had to witness one of the most severe droughts. In 2008, severe frost and drought caused a sharp drop in production, particularly for tomatoes.

 
 

The WPTC (World Processing Tomato Council) estimates the production volume of processed tomatoes to fall by 21% mainly due to a lockdown in the country due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, according to UN Comtrade, out of the 6.3 million tonnes of fresh tomato produced, about 120,000 tonnes were exported to neighboring Central Asian and CIS countries. Processed tomatoes constitute about 20% of the volumes of fresh tomatoes. Despite the pandemic, Iran has been able to increase its tomato productivity and subsequently, its acreage from 43 tonnes per hectare to 55 tonnes per hectare in 2020. Today, the country has reached the levels of self-sufficiency in terms of tomato productivity and therefore the Agriculture Ministry seeks to develop the country’s processing industry as well.
In 2021 the volume produced is expected to decrease by 15%.

 

Processed tomato products are an important ingredient in the Persian cuisine. Today, Iran is one of the largest consumers of tomato paste, sauce and diced tomatoes in the world. The country recorded some of the highest per capita consumption in 2015 and 2020 i.e., 17 kg and 20 kg respectively. However, the demand for processed tomato products reduced slightly due to the Covid-19 pandemic from 1.65 million tonnes in 2019 to 1.185 million tonnes in 2020.
 
Iran’s tomato paste export volumes surge in 2020
According to UN Comtrade figures, Iran’s tomato paste exports reached 16 thousand metric tonnes in FY20-21, an increase of more than 200% from FY19-20 was recorded. Although the share of canned tomato and tomato sauce exports is miniscule, yet the volumes have risen from 89 metric tonnes in FY19-20 to 485 metric tonnes in FY20-21 for canned tomatoes and from 109 metric tonnes in FY19-20 to 476 metric tonnes in FY20-21 in the case of tomato sauce. Import volumes for all the three finished products were negligible.
Turkey has been the largest importer of tomato paste from Iran since the past decade. In FY20-21, the total value of tomato paste exports reached 100 million USD, out of which about 31% was exported to Turkey followed by Armenia, Romania, China, Lebanon and China. Iran annually imports small quantities of tomato paste, canned tomatoes and tomato sauce from Turkey, Austria, China, Brazil and Georgia among others.

In the beginning of the current fiscal, tomato paste exports from Iran were recorded at 1,488 tonnes. In February, the volume of exports declined sharply to reach 84 tonnes mainly due to onset of the drought affecting tomato production in the country. Exports showed signs of recovery in March & April reaching 1,585 tonnes and 2 tonnes, respectively. Tomato paste exports lost traction again in May registering about 20 thousand tonnes. Both canned tomatoes and tomato sauce products have been exported in low quantities through January to May 2021 and this trend is mostly likely going to continue for a while.

Part 2 of the article which presents some of the tomato processing companies in Iran will be published shortly
Related articles

The processing tomato industry in Iran - part 2

02/08/2021 See details
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