Due to dwindling underground water resources in Kerman province because of overuse of this valuable resource, pistachio production in this province - which accounts for the majority of production is on the decline. This will eventually lead to a serious decline of overall Iranian pistachio production over the next few years, if alternative areas are not brought under pistachio production. This requires identifying new suitable areas for new pistachio orchards, as well as moving towards a more industrial and mechanized type of production to increase yield and conserve value natural resources. Therefore, the IPA is involved with projects that aim to expand more efficient pistachio production in new areas.
The IPA is also involved in projects that promote higher food safety standards in Iranian pistachios (like the Green Corridor and Blue Corridor projects).
These two types of projects that the IPA is involved in are detailed below:
Past and Ongoing Projects
IPA Participation in the Drafting of Codex Standards for Aflatoxin Contamination in Pistachio Nuts
The IPA played an active and critical role in basic research, acquisition of vital sampling data, and the analysis of results, which had a material influence on international negotiations that contributed to the final agreement on the internationally accepted levels of aflatoxin contamination for Tree Nuts, plus the related sampling standards, in the context of the Codex Alimentarius food standards establishment process. Key members of the Iranian delegation had an influential role in the Codex process for setting the current world standards for aflatoxin contamination in tree nuts, including pistachios.
The following is a summary of the series of annual Codex meetings, which finally led global food safety authorities, in 2009, to agree on the sampling method, test procedure and maximum acceptable levels of aflatoxins in tree nuts.
2001: It was agreed that an international standard could be written for acceptable levels of aflatoxins in Tree Nuts. Additionally, the Iranian delegation was chosen as the head of the international working group charged with the basic research needed in this regard, and for the presentation of its results to the relevant committee, later named the Codex Committee for Contaminants in Food (CCCF).
2002: It was decided that internationally permissible maximum aflatoxin levels for all Tree nuts including pistachios, should be set. Hence, Iran was tasked with the responsibility of conducting the complementary research with the cooperation of: Turkey, Brazil and the USA.
2003: The CCCF decided that the research should be split into two parts: One for almonds, hazelnuts and pistachios; and another for Brazil nuts.
2004: The Iranian delegation suggested that the acceptable level for aflatoxin B1 be removed and a level of 15ppb for total aflatoxins be considered. It was decided that this suggestion should be analyzed further. At this meeting, it was decided that setting acceptable aflatoxin levels was not enough, and that two other standards should be defined for the sampling method and analytical test procedure. The USA was chosen to head the working group charged with developing the sampling method standards, with Iran as a key member of this working group.
2005: As far as the acceptable aflatoxin levels were concerned, tree nuts were separated into two categories: Tree Nuts for-further-processing and Tree Nuts intended as ready-to-eat. For almonds, hazelnuts and pistachios for-further-processing to reduce total aflatoxin levels, a total aflatoxin level of 15ppb was provisionally used as a starting point for further consideration. A working group led by the EU and Iran was formed to investigate further the acceptable level of aflatoxins for ready-to-eat tree nuts.
2006: Iran with the support of the International Nut Council (INC) was able to persuade the CCCF to send the issue of a proposed total aflatoxin level of 10 or 15ppb for ready-to-eat pistachios to the JECFA for risk assessment.
2007: The JECFA report concluded that increasing the acceptable total level of aflatoxins from 4 ppb to 10 and up to 15ppb created no significant increase (from a regulatory standards perspective) in health hazard among the major global population cluster diet groups. Furthermore, representatives of the Iranian delegation insisted that since raw Iranian pistachios were exported only in order to be roasted in the consuming country before packing, hence, the terminology calling bulk raw Iranian exports as ready-to-eat is false and the term œready-for-roasting should be used. In the final document, this fine point was accepted by the majority, and was mentioned as a reservation held by the Iranian delegation.
2008: The total aflatoxin level for almonds, hazelnuts and pistachios was adopted by the CCCF, based on the ALARA (As Low As Reasonably Achievable) principle, as 10ppb for ready-to-eat nuts and 15ppb for tree-nuts intended for-further-processing, however since that time, the EU has chosen to implement its own more stringent levels.
2009: The global food safety community, including the EU, agreed to implement the Codex recommended standards for:
- The sampling method for aflatoxin testing in tree nuts
- The analytical test procedure for aflatoxin testing
- The acceptable levels of aflatoxins in tree nuts: 10ppb in ready-to-eat and 15ppb in for-further-processing for Tree-Nuts including pistachios.
The Green Corridor Project
In the last few years, aflatoxin levels have been a major concern. The high number of border rejections in some importing countries occurred despite the fact that these consignments were analyzed prior to export by the Iranian Ministry of Health.
It was with the abovementioned dilemma in mind that the Green Corridor Project was jointly planned and implemented by Iran Pistachio Association personnel in conjunction with the Scientific and Technical Committee of the International Nut Council (INC) from 2004 through 2007.
The Green Corridor Project had two objectives:
1- Commercial Objective: to produce and process homogenous, traceable, timely-picked, low aflatoxin contamination risk pistachios for export.
2- Research Objective: to carry out scientific research on the sources, causes and the timing of aflatoxin contamination in Iranian pistachio nuts.
These objectives were essential in insuring the commercial viability of the pistachio trade between Iran and the major importing countries, as well as to assure consumers in the major importing nations of the safety of Iranian-origin pistachios.
In order to achieve this, a Standard Operating Procedure was drafted and implemented for monitoring conditions and practices at Critical Control Points, and to establish Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) for the orchards during the pre-harvest period, through to the initiation of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) at pistachio processing plants, and the setup of storage and transport standards for export.
All pistachio growers, processors, storage facility operators and exporters that were approved participants in the Green Corridor project were required to abide by all operational directives and preset guidelines. Only those consignments that yielded satisfactory aflatoxin analysis results were recognized as Green Corridor approved consignments, and certified as such.
Early results showed that 93% of Green Corridor consignments were accepted into the EU market place, which was then, and remains to this day, one of the world™s most restrictive markets from a food safety perspective.
The Possibility of Harvesting Pistachios from Wild Pistachio Trees
There are large but sparse naturally occurring forests of trees from the pistachio genus in Iran and the surrounding countries. Attempts going back to 70 years ago, clearly demonstrate that it is possible to graft commercial varieties onto the wild pistachio trees of these forests. If the graft takes, and sufficient irrigation water is available, then the tree can give a sizable crop starting in the third year after grafting.This is much faster than would be possible in a modern pistachio orchard with grafting on to one or two year old rootstocks. After budding or grafting the wild forest trees with commercial Pistacia Vera cultivars, the water requirement of the budded or grafted trees will increase significantly.
Recent trends show that demand for pistachios is growing much faster than the supply, which usually follows with a lag time of more than 10 years. To shorten this lag time, the IPA has begun a research project for the production of pistachio crops on grafted wild pistachio trees, often more than 100 years old, in places where irrigation water is available (in 2009). This project is currently underway in the Fars province of Iran, and preliminary results are encouraging.
The Blue Corridor Project
The Blue Corridor project has been designed with the help of the lessons taken from the Green Corridor project to institute the EU import border sampling and analytical tests for aflatoxin screening at the country of origin. A very important consequence of the Blue Corridor project is to bring the advantages of the higher price earned by the European import quality pistachios, to the Iranian farmer. This is expected to increase exponentially, the availability of such low aflatoxin risk product in the international market place.
The concept is that the pistachio growers and exporters, who wish to take part in this voluntary project, will have 2 additional samples taken of each of their pistachio lots that are intended for export, this by a reputable private sector European control laboratory operating in Iran. Following this, their pistachio consignments will be securely sealed by the same laboratory operators. After taking the sample, the lot would be subject to continuous monitoring by the European control laboratory up to loading into the shipping container and subsequent loading of the container onboard the shipping vessel, so that no tampering opportunities arise. The 2 additional samples will be tested at an EU accredited laboratory in Europe. If the European controlling laboratory issues a test result that is in keeping with the maximum aflatoxin tolerance level of the importing nation, then and only then, the IPA acting as the Blue Corridor secretariat will issue a Blue Corridor certificate to the lot owner/exporter. In addition to the Blue Corridor (BC) certification process, all BC consignments will also have to go through the routine aflatoxin tests and screening that is performed by the competent control authorities, at both the country of origin (Iran), and at the destination, wherever that may be.
The IPA is hopeful that the successful implementation of the Blue Corridor project will lead to the gradual phase-out of the import border controls at EU and other importer-nation ports of entry, and that pistachio consignments of Iranian origin will be treated on par with those from other major producing nations.
The IPA Model Pistachio Orchard
The majority of pistachio orchards in Iran are operated in accordance with traditional knowledge and methods. These orchards have a lower yield than the modern Californian orchards that use the latest knowhow and technology. Since in Iranian orchards, all farm activities are heavily dependent on manual labour, production costs are growing at a fast pace (on par with the price of labour as influenced by the rate of inflation). In addition, most of the pistachio orchards in Iran are located in arid regions and are faced with persistent and severe water shortages, while outdated and wasteful irrigation tools and practices continue to be in wide usage.
The IPA is planning a pilot project to use the latest knowhow and knowledge from local and foreign experts to establish a modern, efficient and cost-effective pistachio orchard. Various locations in Iran are being analyzed for their suitability of climate and soil in addition to good water quality and availability. This pilot project would be on a scale of more than 1,000 hectares, so as to make the investments in the necessary greenhouse space and machine harvesting tools an economically viable proposition.
It is well known that all farmers, including the Iranian variety, are highly conservative and accept change more readily by seeing model farms with their own eyes rather than attending seminars and learning second-hand. The IPA expects that this Model Pistachio Orchard project will demonstrate the old adage that says: Seeing is believing.
Organizing International Symposiums
The IPA is at present considering to organise and host a series of international symposia on pistachio production, processing and trade, as a forum for the exchange of international views on the various aspects of the pistachio industry.