Iran farmers fear possible sanctions

by Ali Akbar Dareini (source: Associated Press)
Saturday, September 30, 2006

As the annual pistachio harvest begins, Ali Bajvand has more to worry about than backbreaking labor and changes in crop prices. There is growing unease that possible economic sanctions over the country's controversial nuclear program could stifle the world's largest pistachio exporter.

It was unclear what effect sanctions could have on the pistachio business, but the prospect of losing lucrative markets in the Middle East, Asia and Europe is unnerving for growers like Bajvand.

"I'm harvesting the fruit of my life. What you see here now is the outcome of all the work and care that I've devoted to these trees for the past couple of months," he said. "But I'm told our life will become hard if sanctions are imposed and pistachios are not exported."

There is similar nervousness and uncertainly among many Iranians, who are unsure whether there will be sanctions, and unclear on the possible effects, but worried about their livelihoods nonetheless.

The pistachio industry brings in an average of $500 million a year and provides work for hundreds of thousands of people in a nation where at least 11 percent of the population is unemployed.

Last year, Iran earned $824 million from a bumper pistachio crop of 140,000 tons, mostly produced here in southeastern Iran.

The United States is leading the charge for sanctions if Tehran refuses to stop enriching uranium, a key step toward either producing nuclear fuel or building nuclear weapons.

The U.S. and others fear oil-rich Iran's goal in developing enrichment technology is to produce material for atomic bomb. Iran says it needs enrichment to provide fuel for nuclear reactors that will generate electricity for the developing nation.

Iran ignored an Aug. 31 U.N. Security Council deadline to halt enrichment or face the possibility of economic sanctions.

Should sanctions be imposed, Iran's oil industry would most likely suffer the most. Iran heavily relies on oil exports as a major source of revenue and is the world's fourth-largest oil producer. Other major exports include iron, steel, carpets and saffron.

Still, the U.S. faces an uphill battle in the U.N. Security Council to persuade Russia, China and others to impose punitive measures. And even if sanctions are imposed, they may not extend to agricultural exports.

"It's not clear if there will be any sanctions at all," said Ali Asadi, manager of Aria Pistachio, a pistachio export company. "And even if the worst comes and sanctions are imposed, it will initially be for the government-run factories, oil et cetera, not pistachios exported by private firms."

"However, it will be a very bad development if sanctions are imposed because in the long-run it will harm our business," he said.

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