FAO in the Islamic Republic of Iran

FAO Success Stories in the Islamic Republic of Iran

Empowering Iran’s desert villagers

Training in vocational skills opens up a world of livelihood options

It is not long since Abolghasem, a 36-year old resident of Se-Qale Town in the eastern province of South Khorasan, used to mine black stones for the cobbled streets that adorn cities. He still works with stones ­­– but of the multi-coloured kind that adorn people.

“I’d be paid less than IRR 500 000 (less than USD 5) a day to work in a rubble trench mine, out there in the desert [in a precarious job scheme]. Now, after all the training and support, I could easily make more than IRR 1 700 000 (USD 17) a day. And that’s working from my own home.”

Abolghasem was initially encouraged by his wife, Fatemeh, to take the course on lapidary (or gemstone) work, held by FAO’s Rehabilitation of Forest Landscapes and Degraded Land Project (RFLDL). “I was the first to enrol, around three years ago,” Fatemeh says. “Lapidary seemed an appealing career, with promising prospects, and I told my husband so.”

Between the course and the loan from the Village Fund Committee, also supported by the project, the spouses acquired all the skills and purchased all the equipment needed to start their gemstone business. 

RFLDL is jointly funded by the Global Environment Facility, a green financial organization, and the Government of Iran. The project, which benefits from FAO’s technical support, has been driving community participation and community-based initiatives since 2011. Its offer of training courses has been tailored to help communities generate sustainable livelihoods.

Before coming into contact with the project, Fatemeh, Abolghasem – like many of their neighbours – could hardly see beyond making ends meet. Once their business was up and running, it took them less than two years to repay all their debts – more than USD 5 000. They are now looking to expand their shop, located in the basement of their newly-built home and even hire new hands.

“Participatory institutions, such as the Sustainable Community Development Fund and the Village Resources Management and Development Committee, have given residents the ability to propose new business plans, assess these plans on economic criteria and consider the improvement of their living environment,” says the local project facilitator, Fatemeh Beheshti (no relation to Abolghasem).

Through the Fund and the Committee, residents can jointly mobilise resources, prioritise issues of common concern and manage how they put collective plans into practice.

The plans could involve land conservation, supplementing cash-poor infrastructure projects with voluntary work, funding new small-scale businesses or providing emergency financial assistance to sick people. All decisions and allocations have been by consensus and with mutual accountability.

 “The villagers may, for example, propose that community land be planted with seedlings to control desertification and reduce soil erosion,” offers Mohsen Yousefi, the project manager in South Khorasan.

“Nowadays,” adds Fatemeh Beheshti, “members of the community often no longer request our support or intervention. They are trained enough to pursue their own agenda and cope with difficulties. It’s when it comes to bigger funding, especially for development projects and large business plans, or when they need some sort of coordination with government authorities, that they still seek our assistance and advice.”

“This trend shows the project has met its goals – though we have some way to go to make it fully sustainable,” Yousefi concludes.

FAO is helping countries develop and implement policies and programmes that promote sustainable livelihoods and income diversification (Sustainable Development Goal 1), decent employment (Sustainable Development Goal 8) and empowerment of women (Sustainable Development Goal 5) in rural areas. 

Learn more: FAO and GEF

How making cookies changed one Iranian woman’s life

Necessity led Fatemeh to discover her potential for business

In the town of Se-Qale, a small rural community near the Lut Desert in eastern Iran, Fatemeh Safarpour provides for her children with her own cookie-making business. What started out as a way to make ends meet in a time of need has blossomed into her own small-scale bakery creating job opportunities for other women in the area, thanks to help from FAO and her local community.

Fatemeh’s life was turned upside down 18 months ago when her husband went bankrupt and left her alone to care for their three children. With no job of her own, it was a difficult time for her.

“Before my husband left, I just looked after the house and took care of my children,” Fatemeh says. “But [after that happened] I was determined to find a new source of income to support my children.”

 After considering her skills and the tools available to her, Fatemeh concluded that baking traditional cookies could be a feasible option to generate income – although she was sceptical about whether she would be able to pull it off. Fortunately, Fatemeh was a perfect candidate for help from her local community’s Sustainable Community Development Fund (SCDF), set up as part of FAO’s Rehabilitation of Forest Landscapes and Degraded Land (RFLDL) project.

Funded by the Global Environment Facility and the Government of Iran, the RFLDL project establishes environmentally sustainable, community-based initiatives. Despite what the project’s name suggests, it doesn’t just focus on improving soil and degraded land. It also promotes environmentally-sound livelihoods. Residents can share their plans for new businesses and request financial support from their local SCDF. In particular, the project encourages women to pursue social and economic endeavours.

Still unsure about the prospects, Fatemeh tentatively shared her idea with her fellow women in the local community development fund committees. 

“Seeing my idea as a promising one, the women, members of the fund [SCDF], encouraged me to start the bakery,” Fatemeh says. “First of all, I borrowed IRR 10 000 000 [about USD 100] from the local fund committee and started my new business with a home oven.”

The business got off to a great start, and she soon realised that if she wanted to scale up her business further, she needed to make some changes. The techniques she was using were too labour intensive and the home oven too small. She requested RFLDL’s assistance and the project put her in touch with another beneficiary, from whom she learnt how to use more professional tools and methods. 

“We arranged for her to meet with one of our experienced beneficiaries in Zangooyi Village – 35 km away from Se-Qale town – who had established a similar bakery there,” said Fatemeh Beheshti, a local facilitator for the RFLDL programme. “Fatemeh learnt how to construct a new brick oven and improve her techniques in preparing the dough.”

Her new oven is larger and more economical. It keeps heat in for longer, reducing the energy costs. The oven also has a capacity to bake seven trays of cookies simultaneously instead of a single tray at a time. Thanks to these improvements, Fatemeh’s business soared. She even hired two other women to help her manage the workload. This in turn helped the women earn an income.

“With this oven, and the assistance of the two ladies, I can bake more than 50 kilograms of cookies a day, which result in 70 percent net profit. Taking out the production costs, I can make around IRR 1 000 000 (USD 10) every working day,” Fatemeh says. “Thank God, I can now support my family. I am even considering enlarging my bakery, purchasing new baking machines and hiring more women.”

Nowadays, in each of the communities where the project is running, women have a strong, decisive presence in the local development fund committees.

“Initially, it seemed that the local communities were reluctant to accept the participation of women in local committees established by RFLDL,” says Mohsen Yousefi, the Province Project Manager of RFLDL in South Khorasan. “However, now the role of women has become an accepted reality.”

“In one village, Bostagh, almost half of the core members of the local fund committee are women,” Fatemeh Beheshti says. “Also, in Se Qale town, you can find many successful businesses that are run by women.”

Women fulfil important roles in communities and agrifood value chains, whether as farmers, market sellers, entrepreneurs or community leaders. FAO projects are committed to supporting women worldwide reach their potential, for them and for the benefit of communities everywhere. This is all a part of working to eliminate gender inequalities, Sustainable Development Goal 5, and achieving a world free of poverty (SDG1) and hunger (SDG2).

Adaptation of Quinoa in Iran: An Innovative Approach to Promote Climate-Smart Agriculture

Global warming constitutes the biggest challenge of today’s world. The impact of this phenomenon is not affecting the world evenly. Some regions, including ours, are receiving greater hits. Across the regions, the poor are the most vulnerable as their food security will be at stake. There is a need to identify crops that can adapt.

Aware of the challenge, countries in the Near East and North African Region and FAO decided to turn the threat into an opportunity by taking benefit of the region’s diverse climates and cultivation conditions. Learning from the world and searching for adaptable crops came to the agenda. To start with, a Latin American species called Quinoa was selected due to its highly nutritional value and agronomical versatility. The crop has proved to be an important alternative to traditional crops with regard to regional and global food security, especially in regions facing food production limitations due to severe impacts of climate change. The Quinoa project was started in December 2013.

In Iran, thanks to the joint efforts of the Government and FAO, Quinoa was fully evaluated for its adaptation and productivity. Based on the extensive fieldwork undertaken in Karaj, Ahwaz, Iranshahr, Jiroft and Kahnouj, the crop was found to be adaptable to the climate conditions of the country. The Project was successfully concluded in 2015 and the crop was introduced to farmers in the following cropping seasons.

Managing Transboundary Pests

Tomato borer (Tuta absoluta) is one of the most damaging transboundary pests. It originated from South America and were introduced to the Middle East through Europe and North Africa. The pest was first seen in Iran in October 2010 in West Azerbaijan. In less than one year, 26 provinces in the country were affected.

Tomato is one of the major vegetable crops in Iran. It is produced for domestic consumption and for export as fresh product. it is also processed as tomato pulp and tomato sauce for export. Iran has tomato farms and glasshouses in 32 provinces with a total production area of 177060 ha. The annual production of tomatoes in Iran is more than 6.6 million tons.

Given the transboudary nature of the disease, in 2012 FAO developed a project in the Near East Region to monitor the pest and produce a guideline for pest detection and control. The project was completed in November 2014.

In Iran, the project helped minimize the damage of Tuta absoluta through development of healthy tomato transplants, providing technical knowledge to the national professionals and practitioners for building and maintaining safe greenhouses and promoting the use of fully-automatic tomato-planting machines. Some six-hundred Iranian experts (40% females) and 740 local farmers (30% female farmers) were trained on how to effectively manage the pest and secure production of this strategic agricultural product.

Policy/Strategy Planning. Establishing Framework for Sustainable Agricultural Development Strategy in Iran

Iran faced many challenges for achieving sustainable agricultural development, started to address structural problems, including the agricultural sector. The Government, seeking guidance in the development of an overall vision that would allow the agricultural sector to make an efficient use of the available resources, requested FAO’s technical assistance in the preparation of a Strategic Framework for Long term Sustainable Agricultural Development (2001-2004).

The Government appreciated the assistance of internationally recruited experts, including senior expertise, in order to benefit from the potential global technical and economic development. The assistance addressed the changes in world trade, the challenges on the state budget caused by the reduction of crude oil prices, the dispersal of responsibilities over several ministries and the potential of several sub-sectors. The framework would form a basis for future development and highlight specific priority measures. It would also identify possible needs for technical assistance.

Being in the process of formulating its Third Five Year Development Plan 2000 – 2004 (TFYDP), the country aimed at reducing and targeting subsidies, diversifying the economy, and achieving higher degree of balanced growth. In the agricultural sector, the objectives included stimulating development to increase agricultural exports and enhance self-sufficiency in food production. Without formulating a framework for the sustainable development of agriculture, achieving such objectives, aside from being difficult to achieve, might have serious trade-offs. Hence, the development objective of the Project was to prepare the framework that would enable effective and efficient achievement of the specified objectives of the TFYDP.

The major output of the project was a strategic framework for sustainable agricultural development that could be used (and is being used) as the basis for future development. The underlying strategic framework stresses upon economic efficiency of resource utilization with close considerations to the Government priority of social welfare and sustainability of natural resource management.

The project also produced an in-depth analysis and assessment of major policy issues of importance to the Government. The envisaged policy issues documents stressed recommendations on measures to ensure economic efficiency, social equity, and sustainability of natural resource management. Although the project did not have a direct impact on farmers, the implementation of the framework would have a clear influence on the mobilization of rural communities, as it would support the privatization of state enterprises, and the development of agricultural cooperatives.

Crop Production. Implementation of the Regional Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in Iran

Since FAO promotes the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) as the preferred approach to crop protection and regards it as a pillar of both sustainable intensification of crop production and pesticide risk reduction in the aim of promoting food safety, enhanced food quality and the protection of consumers, IPM is being mainstreamed in all of FAO’s activities pertaining to crop production and protection also as part of its advocacy of climate-smart agriculture, less input intensive agricultural methodologies and the safeguarding of natural resources in agricultural practices. Through the reinforcement of local community practices the FAO IPM programme has been implemented in the framework of three regional programmes in Asia, Near East and West Africa, as well as several stand-alone national projects. 

Following engagements of FAO, the Islamic Republic of Iran has become one of the pioneer countries in the Near East and North Africa region which started the implementation of IPM programme in April 2004. Within the ambit of the project, several countries visited Iran between 2004 and 2014 to benefit from the capacity built within the country on the implementation methods of IPM and Farmer Field School (FFS). Today, the IPM/FFS in Iran is applied to more than 14 different crops. Another excellent result of the Project has been the creation of the IPM Group, a Community-based Organization (CBO) group of farmers and consumers, which are engaged in a “Farm to Fork” initiative that they have established on a trust based market which is currently expanding.

During these years, the government of Iran made an effective use of FAO assistance provided through TCP projects. The advances made in seed certification and quality control through TCP assistance was impressive. The project assistance was used to update seed legislation and to establish a Seed Certification and Quality Control Institute which would be a vital component of sustainable self-sufficiency in food for Iran. The TCP project on “Management and Control of Pesticides, Animal Drugs and Chemical Residues in Foodstuff” had also a direct bearing on raising farm productivity and improving food safety.