Adding value to agriculture in Armenia

Armine Muradyan helped start a women's farming cooperative, which is now selling broccoli in Yerevan markets. Photo: UNDP Armenia

Armine Muradyan lives in the Lori region of Armenia, with her husband, two sons, daughter-in-law and grandchild.

In the scenic and fairy-tale looking villages nestled among Armenian mountains, the rural life is not a picturesque one: in a country with a high unemployment rate and alarming levels of poverty, the rural-urban disparities are significant.

With limited income generation options and highland climate, the villagers mostly practice subsistence agriculture. Men and youngsters mostly prefer moving to towns or other countries in search of jobs.

In Armine’s village of Gargar, it is no different. “Our community lives mostly on animal breeding and crop cultivation. A small number of people work at the village administration, school, and a military unit in the nearby village,” says Armine. The villagers mostly cultivate potatoes, wheat, beetroots, and cabbage, which do not have a high value in the market and are mostly used for household consumption.

Armine is a school teacher, not a traditional farmer, but she saw value in the clean environment and good soil of the area. She and her fellow farmers saw the potential income generation of trying to grow new, non-traditional, and pricey crops. With Armine’s initiative and leadership, several female farmers came together to cultivate high-value vegetables - asparagus, ruccola, broccoli - that drew high demand in the Armenian market. They named their agricultural cooperative “The future is ours”.

Highlights

  • 41 farmer groups have received training in cooperative establishment, business skills development, and business plans preparation.
  • 600 farmers have been involved in the project.
  • For the first time in Armenia, wide-scale buckwheat cultivation and processing was started. 2 buckwheat processing factories were established for local cooperatives.

Women in Armenian rural areas are hardworking and busy in traditional roles of dealing with household chores and helping in agriculture, but it is unusual to see a group of women from different households working together. Nor is it common to see business-oriented thinking towards agriculture.

Starting was not easy, but the efforts proved worthwhile. The women created an opportunity for self-employment and an additional source of income, and they gradually attracted the attention of different NGOs and other farmers who were interested in exchanging experiences.

One of the biggest challenges for Armine and her fellow farmers was obtaining a greenhouse where they could grow seedlings of their crops, and then finding a way to transfer them to the fields for expanded production. This was a vital necessity for them due to the rainy and comparatively colder climate of Lori region.

In 2015, Armine’s group applied to the ENPARD “Producer Group and Value Chain Development” project’s open call in Armenia and were selected. The project, implemented by UNDP and UNIDO Armenia and funded by the European Union and Austrian Development Agency, is one of the largest agricultural projects currently implemented in the country.

Armine and her fellow farmers received training in cooperative establishment, cultivation of non-traditional crops, and business skills development, and were supported in developing their business plans. The project also provided them with practical items to begin, like plastic tunnel greenhouses, cultivation tools, and high-quality broccoli seeds.

By June 2016, the cooperative was already planting broccoli seeds in their greenhouse equipped with a drip irrigation system. The tiny seedlings that grew in hundreds of plastic cups were later transplanted into the nearby field to grow and provide yield.

At the end of summer, Armine was already taking joy from the good harvest. The broccoli that they grew was transported to the supermarkets of the capital city, Yerevan, twice a week, resulting in improved income. Farmers usually do not have direct access to Yerevan markets, due to lack of time and resources. But the project also helped them develop market links, with buyers and distributors from the capital city coming to Gargar village on a regular basis to purchase the produce directly.

The ENPARD project is implemented in six of the nine regions of the country. In total, the project has supported around 600 primary producers who joined in 40 agricultural cooperatives.

For the next year, the Gargar farmers are planning for a better yield and more effective marketing strategy. They already have a brand logo and will work on better packaging. At the same time Armine is cautious not to rush things: “Once we have a market, we need to be able to comply with their demand and provide a high enough volume of broccoli to the buyers,” she notes.

Slowly but surely, Armine and her team are also thinking of developing other side-products for their business, like producing nutritious broccoli baby food, or growing other cash crops. These self-reliant, entrepreneurial women have succeeded as a result of their potential, drive, and patience in watching the seedlings of their work grow.

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