Iran’s Land Suitability for Agriculture
Increasing population has posed insurmountable challenges to agriculture in the provision of future food security, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region where biophysical conditions are not well-suited for agriculture. Iran, as a major agricultural country in the MENA region, has long been in the quest for food self-sufficiency, however, the capability of its land and water resources to realize this goal is largely unknown. Using very high-resolution spatial data sets, we evaluated the capacity of Iran’s land for sustainable crop production based on the soil properties, topography, and climate conditions. We classified Iran’s land suitability for cropping as (million ha): very good 0.4% (0.6), good 2.2% (3.6), medium 7.9% (12.8), poor 11.4% (18.5), very poor 6.3% (10.2), unsuitable 60.0% (97.4), and excluded areas 11.9% (19.3). In addition to overarching limitations caused by low precipitation, low soil organic carbon, steep slope, and high soil sodium content were the predominant soil and terrain factors limiting the agricultural land suitability in Iran. About 50% of the Iran’s existing croplands are located in low-quality lands, representing an unsustainable practice. There is little room for cropland expansion to increase production but redistribution of cropland to more suitable areas may improve sustainability and reduce pressure on water resources, land, and ecosystem in Iran.