Category Archives: Food & Crops

Iranian Pomegranates

Iran over the last three decades or so has come forward in leaps and bounds in many sectors including the agricultural sector. Iran, the nation that is analogous to Persia has a long agricultural history and an agrarian tradition that spans hundreds of years.

Many of the crops, fruits and vegetables that we take for granted have their origins in Iran and neighboring territories including an area that is known as the fertile crescent (Levant and Mesopotamia). Iran is best regarded as the traditional and orthodox bridge between the east and the west.

Iran’s agricultural sector is wide and varied and includes certain fruits that many would consider exotic like pomegranates. Iran is the largest producer and exporter of pomegranates in the world and while the fruit may not suit the delicacies of the western palate it is popular not only in the Middle East but also in South Asia.

It is the most popular fruit in Iran but over the years its consumption has declined in other parts of the world primarily because commercial cultivation has ceased in many countries despite consistent demand. Iran is probably the most conducive country to import pomegranates from next to India.

The most common type or variety of pomegranate is the red pomegranate or as some call it, the ruby of paradise, but there are other varieties that exist in Iran that have acquired little fame outside the country. There are in total over one hundred varieties and the surface color of each variety differs, ranging from white, yellow, pink, red, purple and black.

Iran produces about 700,000 tons of pomegranates per annum harvested from approximately 70, 000 hectares with an average yield of about 10 tons per hectare. The figure is likely to increase as more available land is converted into orchards and may touch the 1 million mark soon. A bulk of the pomegranate that is produced is consumed locally and only a small percentage is exported at present.

The two main factors that contribute to the low export figures are as
follow:-
i) The popularity of the fruit in the domestic market
ii) A lack of export markets

The most prominent city in Iran that is synonymous to pomegranate production is Saveh, located approximately 100 km from the nation’s capital or an hour’s drive away. It is located in a semi arid part of the country and it is of some historic significance. The city was once a Medes fort that was subsequently conquered by Cyrus the Great of Persia in 550 BC. The Medes or the Medians were a group of people that originated from North-Western Iran and occupied various parts of Iran before the formalization of the Persian Empire. Persia itself is a conglomeration of two tribes.

During Yalda, a festival to commemorate the winter solstice, pomegranates become especially significant because the red color of the fruit embodies the crimson hues of Dawn, a Goddess who is of some significance to the Aryans. Dawn is worshipped according to the Rig Veda for “might, power and opulence”.

In chapter five of the Atharva Veda, the pomegranate is quoted as a fruit with natural medicinal properties and is regarded as a gift from mother nature or Bhumi, preserved by the Lord of Fire, Agni or the flame of righteousness, Mainyu Athra. The religious significance of the fruit is clearly evident in both Vedic and Zoroastrian circles.

As a matter of interest, pomegranate fruits and flowers are also used in the worship of the Hindu Goddess Varahi. Each Hindu deity has a fruit or flower that is precious to him or her and the pomegranate fruit and flower are the offerings that the Goddess Varahi cherishes most.

In addition to Saveh, Neyriz is another city that is popular for its pomegranate output. Neyriz is located in the Fars Province approximately 1,007 km away from Tehran or an approximate hour drive away. Neyriz is a dry and arid part of Iran but the inhospitable façade is highly suited to pomegranate cultivation. The region produces the best pomegranates in Iran. The capital of the Fars Province, Shiraz, houses many archaeological sites including Persepolis, the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire (550 – 330 BC).

Pomegranates are also produced in Yazd which is located approximately 622 km away from the nation’s capital or a scenic 6 hours drive away. Yazd is famous for its fire temple that corresponds in design and structure to the Parsi temples of India. The temple is the only temple in Iran to house the Atash Behram or the fire of victory and the sacred flame in the temple has been kept burning for almost 1,500 years, located within a bronze vessel visible from behind a glass wall and accessible only to the temple priest.

Pomegranates vary in taste from sweet to sour and are not only consumed as fruit but also churned into juices and sauces which are used in Iranian cuisine. According to some sources pomegranate juice is a natural cure for diabetes and therefore in addition to its savory taste the fruit also has some therapeutic value.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

The Potato

The potato was first cultivated somewhere between the borders of Peru and Bolivia approximately 8,000 years ago. It is the world’s most widely grown tuber crop and the 4th largest food crop in terms of fresh produce after rice, wheat and corn. Peru is essentially the birthplace of the potato and in the Andean region there are still thousands of varieties of potatoes that grow wildly. Farmers there still cultivate up to 50 varieties that are still commercially available, some with medicinal and therapeutic value.

From the Andeans, potatoes were brought to Europe post the colonization of South and Central America by Spanish traders and have increased in popularity ever since. It is at present the most consumed tuber crop in Europe and has become an essential clog in fulfilling the dietary needs of most Europeans.

Potatoes were first introduced to Central Asia approximately 150 years ago and since then potatoes have become an important food source. In 2011 a University of Michigan study set the average consumption of potatoes in the region at 143 kg annual per capita, one of the highest in the world.

In 2004 a study done by the International Potato Center revealed that iron deficiency was rampant in many countries in Central Asia including Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The center undertook an extensive study to find an effective solution to the problem and it discovered that certain varieties of potatoes especially those grown in Uzbekistan namely the Picasso and Kuroda have the highest iron and zinc content on a dry weight basis.

The center identified Central Asia as a region that can potentially impact the overall global nutritional status especially with regards to iron deficiency anemia and recognized the role of the potato as a solution to the problem.

Chronic malnutrition especially iron deficiency is a critical problem in some parts of Central Asia affecting up to 60% of women aged between 15 to 49 years and children under the age of 3 (Uzbekistan).

The potato is a fast-growing plant and grows well not only in large farms but also in small plots of land. Its yield of calories per acre (about 9.2 million) is higher than that of maize (7.5 million), rice (7.4 million), wheat (3 million) and soybean (2.8 million). The world’s largest producer of potatoes is China, followed by India, the Russian Federation, Ukraine, the United States, Germany, Poland, Bangladesh, Netherlands, France, the United Kingdom, Malawi, Turkey, Canada, Iran, Peru, Egypt, Brazil, Algeria and Pakistan (FAO).

A bulk of the potatoes that are produced around the world today are cultivated as secondary crops, on a small scale, utilizing poor sandy soil with relatively low yields.

Growing potatoes is not only an option for farmers but for anyone with a bit of land to spare. Soil fertility does not have much of an impact on production because potatoes can grow, as farmers in Poland and Ukraine have shown, in relatively poor soil. Both countries produce in excess of what’s required and their production capacity is bolstered by utilizing less fertile soil. Even if the potatoes are not suitable for human consumption they can still be used as animal feed.

The demand for potatoes has doubled over the last 15 years and this is mainly due to the growing demand for frozen and dried potatoes, chips and snacks. This figure is expected to double again by 2020.

Consumption of potatoes in developing countries has also increased from 9 kg per capita in the early 1960s to over 14 kg today. Belarus has the highest consumption of potato per capita.

The potato is a nutrient-dense food. It provides good nutritional return for calories. It has a high energy yield and it is rich in vitamin C content. Typically, 100 gm of potatoes will contain about 17 mg of Vitamin C.

In addition to that, natural potatoes also contain vitamins A, B and P. The potato is also rich in potassium and it further contains calcium, iron and phosphorus. It is about 17% starch and it is one of the best natural sources of starch.

The United Nations officially declared 2008 as the International Year of the Potato. It was done in order to increase awareness of the importance of the potato as a food source in developing nations. It dubbed the potato “the hidden treasure”. Promotions were carried out throughout the year to increase awareness on the contributions the honest potato can make in alleviating global hunger.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward