Iran’s pistachio farms are dying of thirst

The pistachio trees at the village in southern Iran are long dead, bleached white by the sun — the underground water reserves sucked dry by decades of over-farming and waste.

The last farmers left with their families 10 years ago, and the village has the look of an abandoned Martian colony.

The dome-roofed, mud-walled homes are crumbling, once-green fields are now nothing but dirt furrows, and the only sign of life is a couple of drifters camping out in an old storehouse.

Pistachios are Iran’s biggest export after crude oil, with 250,000 tonnes of the nut produced last year — a figure only recently topped by the United States.

In Kerman province in southern Iran, cities have grown rich from pistachios, but time is running out for the industry as unconstrained farming and climate change take a devastating toll.

Near the city of Sirjan, a long line of enormous sinkholes like bomb craters mark the points where an underground aquifer was pumped completely dry, and the ground simply collapsed.

“Farming is being destroyed,” says Hassan Ali Firouzabadi, who has lived in the nearby village of Izadabad for half a century.

His business is barely clinging on. Some of his pistachio trees are old enough to remember the golden age of Shah Abbas in the 17th century, but the leaves have turned yellow-green from the salty water he now dredges up.

“The well was six to 10 metres (deep) when I was a child, but now it’s 150, and the water is bitter and salty,” he says.

“This used to be a village full of people. Most have left to become labourers and drivers. Ten more years and there will be nothing left.”