Of Iran's total area, 11% is cultivated, 27% consists of permanent pastures, and 7% is forest and woodland. The remaining 55% consists of wasteland, lakes, mountains, desert, and urban areas. About one-third of the labor force is employed in agriculture. In 1998, the total land area under cultivation was estimated at 18.4 million hectares (45.5 million acres).
Progress in Iranian agriculture was greatly stimulated by the land reform of 1962–63, under which 4,025,680 farmers and their family members had taken title to their land by 1975, after the old land tenure system was abolished. However, with a rapidly increasing population and a sharply rising standard of living, Iran is no longer self-sufficient in its agricultural production, and food imports have risen steadily in recent years.
In 1999, Iranian agricultural production (in thousands of tons) included wheat, 8,687; sugar beets, 4,987; barley, 1,919; rice, 2,300; grapes, 2,315; apples, 1,944; oranges, 1,749; dates, 918; cotton, 141; tea, 60; and tobacco, 23. Almonds and pistachios are grown primarily for export. In 1999, Iran was the largest producer of pistachios in the world (200,000 tons, or 54% of global production), and the fourth largest producer of almonds (after the United States, Spain and Italy), at 112,000 tons.
As of 1998, some 7.56 million hectares (18.68 million acres) were under irrigation. The fifth development plan (1973–78) envisaged an overall increase of 5.5% in agricultural production, but the revised plan raised the target to 8% annually, rescheduled allocations over six years instead of five, and slowed down the projects. Under the revolutionary government's first five-year plan (1983–88), agriculture was to receive 15.5% of total allocations, with food self-sufficiency the primary objective. However, because of the war with Iraq, planned expenditures were never attained. Moreover, food self-sufficiency still remains only a goal: imports of agricultural products exceeded exports by nearly $1.5 billion in 2001.