February 25, 2021
In the last year, coronavirus has dramatically undermined food production and supply chains. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned that the repercussions from the virus are threatening the food security of millions worldwide.
The pandemic interrupted production chains in 2020 and pushed up the prices of a range of products, notably medical supplies and food products.
In Iran, its consequences have compounded endemic problems caused by 40 years of economic mismanagement and regime indifference to sectors like farming. Food products did become more costly in Iran in 2020, but their prices were already rising in 2019 and before.
The government of President Hassan Rouhani (elected in Aug. 2013), which dubs itself the government of Prudence and Hope (Tadbir va omid), promised to turn the economy around within 100 days of its election. Iranians' hopes rose further with the signature of the 2015 nuclear pact with other global powers. But this soon went the dismal way of preceding administrations, such as the eight-year presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who Rouhani allies had accused of ruining Iranian agriculture.
In the eight years of Rouhani's government, the price of meat has risen by 250%, chicken by 400%, a kilogram of sugar by 359% and a kilogram of split peas by 373%. The price of rice, a daily staple in Iran, has risen 150% in the past year. The inflation rate for bread and cereals is normally 40% a year. Some dairy products have almost quintupled in price under Rouhani.
Not surprisingly these exorbitant hikes have dampened consumer demand. The head of the country's food wholesalers association, Qasem'ali Hasani, recently declared there had been a 50% drop in demand for food products in the last six months.
Without an overall agricultural plan, specialists are warning about the threat to the country's food security. A farming specialist for the Phoenix Project Iran, a private research initiative, spoke to Kayhan London about Iranian governance of this sector, calling it "extremely weak in all productive aspects." He says farming techniques and land management had declined, and this has led to soil erosion and wasted water. Farming lands, he says, "have become loss-making in economic terms."
He believes a lack of planning and desire for short-term profits had harmed the land more than climate change, and says the country must start using the sustainable techniques proposed by the FAO.
Iran's pistachoes have long been a staple product. Photo: Oxlaey
Land grabbing, practiced for decades by groups linked to state powers, has become another threat to farming. The government counted 44,289 cases of illegal changes in land use across farming lands in Iran in the Persian calendar year that finished on March 20, 2019. The parliamentary Research Center has likewise counted a reduction of forests in Iran from around 18.3 million hectares to 12.4 million hectares in the last three decades.
The Engineering and Studies Office of the Forests, Range and Watershed Management Organization estimates that between 2015 and 2020, some 12,000 hectares of woodlands and forests were cut down or spoiled. It puts the soil erosion rate in Iran at 16.7 tons per hectare, or four times the world average.
Farmers have complained about the decreasing quality of fertilizers, pesticides and animal feed, along with their rising prices.
One trout farmer tells Kayhan London this was the case with trout feed, which was mostly imported. This, he says, was impeding fish growth in north-western Iran and causing considerable economic losses. "The feed is low-quality and the fish fall behind the growth program," he says.
In the past two years, thousands of fish, chicken and livestock farms have gone bankrupt. This itself has fueled price rises in recent months, though officials prefer to blame "hoarders' and speculators.
The specialist from the Phoenix Project says low-quality fertilizers and pesticides have become key factors in the damage to farming output. He says farmers had been using "fake and even contaminated chemical pesticides and fertilizers," which have effectively prevented many small-scale farmers from selling their produce inside the country.
The wholesale and nationwide destruction of agriculture could be imminent.
This merely paves the way for more imports, he says. Poor management has sharply reduced the value of farming products, impeded investment and likely fueled rising labor and production costs. In recent years, the government has paid up just a portion of the budget funds earmarked for the sector, and it has no programs for backing farmers. Many, especially those living in drought-stricken areas, have had to move to cities where they end up in shantytowns, scraping together a meager living.
These are just some of the dynamics involved in the decline of farming in Iran, which will undermine the food security of millions of Iranians. The specialist from the Phoenix Project says, "there is no doubt, if the sector proceeds as it has, the wholesale and nationwide destruction of agriculture is imminent." Under Rouhani, he says, Iran has lost markets for some of its most iconic products, such as saffron, pistachios and dates.
"It is also close to losing its leading position as a producer of pomegranates," he says, adding that changes in management practices could potentially still reverse these losses. But these, he added, are unlikely "under the Islamic Republic," which is turning Iran into a "consumer and importer of agricultural products."
A change of direction would first require a government that is concerned with its people, rather than a regime that uses public monies to maintain its cronies and to forward its own ideological goals in overseas.
Kayhan is a Persian-language, London-based spinoff of the conservative daily of the same name headquartered in Tehran. It was founded in 1984 by Mostafa Mesbahzadeh, the owner of the Iranian paper. Unlike its Tehran sister paper, considered "the most conservative Iranian newspaper," the London-based version is mostly run by exiled journalists and is very critical of the Iranian regime.
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food / travel
With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.
Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson
October 26, 2021
When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.
And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.
Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan
The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan
According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.
In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.
The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.
Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.
View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA
Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!
The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.
Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.
Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain
Old Belchite, Spain
Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…
That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.
Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.
If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.
Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan
Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.
The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.
Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."
Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.
Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden
The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden
After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).
Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.
Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia
Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia
During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.
Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.
Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy
Poveglia Island, Italy
Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).
During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.
In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.
Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.
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