Developing Skilled Workforce for Armenia

Whilst establishing the Agribusiness Teaching Center at the Armenian National Agrarian University back in 2000, the founders were confident that the project result will be a groundbreaking and a leading national and regional-level educational institution in agribusiness. All partners – US Department of Agriculture, Texas A&M University, and the Armenian National Agrarian University – were aware of the existing needs and challenges within the Armenian agribusiness sector. Armenia needed well-trained specialists and leaders with important managerial decision-making skills, capable of building a knowledge-based economy.

Text : Ashot Garunts


To ensure that this innovative academic program of the Agribusiness Teaching Center (ATC) is sustainable, the ATC was incorporated into the International Center for Agribusiness Research and Education (ICARE) foundation, established by Texas A&M University in 2005. ICARE has also been running the Agribusiness Research Center (ARC) since 2005 and the EVN Wine Academy since 2014.

Today, the Agribusiness Teaching Center – the flagship of ICARE – provides modern agribusiness education in Armenia. It prepares graduates who are capable to accomplish high-level entrepreneurial business in the food and agriculture sector in Armenia and globally. Graduates at both undergraduate and graduate levels are equipped with broad economic, marketing and managerial skills, up-to-date communication abilities, and excellent knowledge of English. All of this makes these young professionals highly competitive in the growing regional agribusiness and related sectors. The program curricula are Western-structured, based on the undergraduate (Agricultural Economics) and graduate (Master of Agribusiness) curricula of Texas A&M University. Courses are taught in English by American and Armenian instructors who have degrees from leading U.S. and European universities. ATC has a strong research component, with around 20% of students engaged in ICARE research projects. They have important roles in data collection and data processing, analysis and reporting, as well as a number of in-depth studies that are conducted by the Agribusiness Research Center. The current students at ATC are from Armenia and Georgia. As of June 2016, the number of undergraduate program graduates from ATC was 419, including 53 graduates from the Republic of Georgia. Additionally, ATC is one of only few ‘natural choices’ in Armenia for exchange students from European countries to receive international education. As of 2016, 18 students from European universities studied in ATC undergraduate and graduate programs for a semester or two through Erasmus Mundus and Erasmus+ programs. ATC provides its students with the qualifications and skills necessary for successful employment in the agribusiness sector, international organizations, finance and banking system, government, NGOs, academia, and non-agricultural fields. Over 90 percent of graduates get their first professional jobs within the first few months after graduating. On average, these graduates then go on to earn twice more than graduates from other Armenian universities.
Research, along with agribusiness academic programs, is a priority at ICARE. The results of research projects and services provided by Agribusiness Research Center have been of practical significance for a number of beneficiaries: farmer groups and cooperatives, agribusinesses, and rural development initiatives. ARC is a leading research and rural development center in Armenia and the region with research topics covering agricultural finance and financial literacy, value chain analysis, organic agriculture, efficient water management, food waste and loss management, sustainable agriculture, and many others.
ARC promotes Armenian agribusinesses at national and international conferences, symposiums, and meetings. The geography of activities covers Armenia, Georgia and Central Asia, with project partners globally. This center collaborates with USAID, FAO, World Bank, IFC, Swiss National Science Foundation, World Vision, GIZ, Business & Finance Consulting, EURICSE, EUROQUALITY, IAMO, and many others. So far, ARC has implemented projects together with over 40 partners from 17 countries.

EVN Wine Academy was established jointly by ICARE and Semina Consulting to bridge the growing gap between modern industry trends and the outdated knowledge taught by higher and vocational professional schools in Armenia. This gap was very much in the focus of the Armenian Wine Sector Baseline Study, conducted by ICARE team. The study reinforced the need to establish a state-of-the-art wine education and training center. Today, EVN offers short masterclasses for wine enthusiasts, and a professional 18-month certificate program in Enology and Wine Business. This professional program is developed and taught jointly by the faculty of ICARE and Geisenheim University. The first graduating class of EVN Wine Academy has already become a significant contributing factor in helping the Armenian wine industry become internationally competitive. The short-term masterclasses aim to educate wine consumers in Armenia. Experts coin the current phase of development within the Armenian wine industry as “back to the origins.” The country, with a history of over 6,000 years of commercial winemaking, had lost this reputation over the past 70 years. Importantly, through wine education, research and extension, the EVN Wine Academy is successfully “reminding” Armenians about their historic reputation as a wine-consuming society. With the current rapid development of the Armenian wine industry and the emergence of modern wineries producing internationally competitive wines, EVN promotes the admission of students from businesses in Armenia and abroad. The expertise of the EVN faculty and the unique student wine lab and tasting facility help the industry by organizing student-staff-alumni wine promotion events, involving exchange students, as well as strengthening internship programs with partner wineries. Moreover, EVN has become an exceptional site for foreign winemakers, sommeliers, students, and current and potential partners, including those from the Armenian Diaspora.

Food Safety Systems Management intensive professional certificate program is one of the most recent initiatives of ICARE. The program is offered jointly with USAID-funded InnovATE/Armenia project and taught by prominent experts from Penn State University and Virginia Tech University. This pioneer course includes 6 modules (Principles of Food Science, Sanitation, Food Microbiology, Better Process Control and Acidified Foods, HACCP, and Food Defense) and equips students with hands-on experience and critical skills to make the future of the food supply chain in Armenia safer and secure. Local experts who were assisting the U.S. faculty will take over the teaching responsibility for the next academic years.

The Greenhouse Crop Production and Management is another market-driven educational program that ICARE is currently developing in order to meet the current needs of the growing greenhouse industry in Armenia. This program is being developed jointly with the International Finance Corporation and the “Greenhouse Association” NGO. Industry experts are supporting the ICARE team in adapting modern international textbooks and other educational resources to the Armenian context. These experts also contribute years of experience to help ensure the best possible solutions for the industry. Like in all ICARE educational programs, this curriculum will combine intensive classroom learning with hands-on practical experience in greenhouses.

USAID Mission Director to Armenia Deborah Grieser recently said, “We are happy to have watched ICARE evolve and grow over the past 12 years into an essential institution that promotes the best international standards for agribusiness education.”