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IRAN: Cuts to energy subsidies hitting farmers hard, lawmaker says

April 13, 2011 |  7:08 am

Picture 20Iranians take great pride in the natural bounty of their land, but farmers have been struggling to keep up cultivation since the government slashed energy subsidies late last year.

Earlier this week, Ali Asgar Yousefnejad, a lawmaker from the Mazandaran province in northern Iran, spoke out against the soaring prices of electricity, fertilizers and fuel and their effect on farmers in his district.

"The farmers first change their rice paddies, which consume a lot of water, to orange grooves," Yousefnejad told Babylon & Beyond. "Then if the water needed for orange orchards or citrus fruits is too expensive, they convert to kiwi fruit and so on until they give up farming altogether and sell their agricultural land to the builders to build villas and destroy the forests."

The Mazandaran province, on the Caspian Sea, is a popular vacation destination for the well-to-do from Tehran and other major cities.

The Iranian government, under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's direction, started phasing out decades-old subsidies for petroleum, gas and electricity in December 2010 in an effort to save $20 billion and beef up state coffers suffering from four rounds of United Nations sanctions.

Most economists agreed that slashing subsidies was a long time coming, and some news reports indicate the price hikes already have reduced waste. But many Iranians complain that the high gas bills are putting stress on their household finances, despite cash gifts from the government intended to soften the shock. Mehr news recently reported that 30% of Iranians have not paid their last gas bill.

Babylon & Beyond recently asked Ahmadinejad during a press conference in Tehran about the effect gas prices are having on Iranian families.

"Adjust your gas torch and fix the chimney," he said, "then if the gas bills are still too high, let us know and we'll take care of it."

-- Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran

Photo: A farmer harvests pomegranates in rural Iran. Iranian farmers have been hit particularly hard by subsidy cuts, a lawmaker told Babylon & Beyond. Credit: Abdollah Moradi / ISNA

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