Desert, wasteland, and barren mountain ranges cover about half
of Iran's total land area. Of the rest, in the 1980s about 11
percent was forested, about 8 percent was used for grazing or
pastureland, and about 1.5 percent was made up of cities, villages,
industrial centers, and related areas. The remainder included
land that was cultivated either permanently or on a rotation,
dry-farming basis (about 14 percent) and land that could be farmed
with adequate irrigation (about 15 to 16 percent). Some observers
considered the latter category as pastureland.
In most regions, the natural cover is insufficient to build up
much organic soil content, and on the steeper mountain slopes
much of the original earth cover has been washed away. Although
roughly half of Iran is made up of the arid Central Plateau, some
of the gentler slopes and the Gulf lowlands have relatively good
soils but poor drainage. In the southeast, a high wind that blows
incessantly from May to September is strong enough to carry sand
particles with it. Vegetation can be destroyed, and the lighter
soils of the region have been stripped away.
In mountain valleys and in areas where rivers descending from
the mountains have formed extensive alluvial plains, much of the
soil is of medium to heavy texture and is suited to a variety
of agricultural uses when brought under irrigation. Northern soils
are the richest and the best watered. The regions adjacent to
Lake Urmia (also cited as Lake Urumiyeh and formerly known as
Lake Rezaiyeh under the Pahlavis) and the Caspian Sea make up
only about 25 percent of the country's area but produce 60 percent
or more of its major crops.
The land reform program of 1962 affected agricultural lands and
the production of crops. Implemented in three stages, the program
redistributed agricultural lands to the peasantry, thereby lessening
the power of the feudal landlords. By the time the program was
declared complete in 1971, more than 90 percent of the farmers
who held rights to cultivation had become owners of the land they
farmed. The new owners, however, became disillusioned with the
government and its policies as their real economic situation worsened
by the late 1970s.
On average, the minimal landholding for subsistence farming in
Iran is about seven hectares. If each of the 3.5 million sharecroppers
and landowners in villages (as of 1981) were given an equal share
of land (from the 16.6 million hectares of cropland), each family
would be entitled to only 4.7 hectares, not enough land for subsistence
farming. Even if there were sufficient arable land, many of the
sharecroppers could not afford to buy more than four of the seven
hectares needed for subsistence farming.
The basic rural landholding infrastructure did not change after
the Revolution. A minority of landowners continued to profit by
exploiting the labor of sharecroppers. Prior to the land reform
program, feudal and absentee landlords, including religious leaders
responsible for vaqf land, comprised the ruling elite.
Over the years, vaqf landholdings grew considerably,
providing many Iranian clergy with a degree of economic independence
from the central government. Redistribution of the land resulted
in power being transferred to farmers who acquired ten or more
hectares of land and to the rural bourgeoisie (see State and Society,
1964-74 , ch. 1). Uncertainty about the prospect of effective
land reform under Khomeini contributed to a massive loss of farm
labor--5 million people--between 1982 and 1986.
Emphasis on subsistence agriculture persisted because of the
lack of capital allocated after the Revolution, perhaps because
the regime's technocrats were from urban areas and therefore uninformed
about agriculture, or because the bazaar class, which constituted
a disproportionate share of the 1979 government, did not represent
the interests of agriculture. Uncertainties about future landownership,
as well as the war with Iraq, caused further disruption of agriculture.
Ten percent of agricultural land fell into Iraqi hands between
1980 and 1982, although the territory was subsequently regained
by Iran. The war stifled agricultural development by causing a
loss of revenue and by draining the already shrinking agricultural
labor pool through heavy conscription.
Data as of December 1987