SDC in Armenian regions

SDC in Armenian regions

This June Armenia’s Syunik region hosted a sheep shearing festival, a unique attraction for tourists and a great opportunity for farmers from the nearby villages to sell their products. But that’s only a small part of the big program of Inclusive Sustainable Economic Development, which the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) undertakes in Armenia.

Text : Areg Davtyan    Photo : SDC Archive

The program started few years ago, and is operational in the Syunik and Vayots Dzor regions of Armenia. The program consists of two main projects: Livestock Development in Southern Armenia and Rural Development in the Region of Meghri. SDC’s mission is to explore the areas, identify the weak spots and work to improve them, so that local farmers have all the opportunities to develop their businesses, by reducing the costs and increasing their production, and being able to sell that.
Zara Allahverdyan, Head of the International Cooperation of the Swiss Cooperation Office, says that in the case of the Livestock development in Southern Armenia (which includes over 100 villages of the region), the project’s overall goal is to increase economic opportunities for male and female farmers involved in animal husbandry in the aforementioned regions. In 2008, SDC started with the veterinary practices: “The aim of the project was mainly informing and raising awareness about the importance of veterinary practice. Farmers had to realize that they have to pay for that service and get more high quality product and healthier animals”. The other result of the initiative was reduction of animal mortality. At the same time, in the framework of the project, a specialist was chosen and his workplace was repaired. The other problem was organizing artificial insemination. Previously there were stations in the cities only, now the specialists and the equipment are in all of the villages, so as a result farmers have reduced their costs by nearly 50 percent.

Some of the problems in the regions were related not only to the economy, but also to ecology. “Because of the poor condition of the infrastructure in pastures (roads, water supply, etc), farmers had to use only nearby territories, while the heavy use was putting the soil in danger”, says Zara. At the same time, the pastures further away were also endangered because of a lack of usage. Repairing the infrastructure brought a more balanced usage for both of the pastures. At the same time, trainings were held about the importance of balanced use of pastures.
One of the most important parts of the project is cooperating with the authorities and collecting data about the animals, diseases, etc. During the years all of the information was written down on paper, so it took ages to get the certificates and other documents. So, when e-governance was introduced in the villages, SDC included the electronic animal register, to save time and effort for the farmers and local government when needed.
A large part of the village community consists of lonely women: widows, or wives of men who emigrated abroad for work. As stock raising is a hard work, many of them are excluded from the process. With the help of the project, the community’s women were involved in producing feed and poultry. Besides, after participating in trainings organized by the project, women developed their skills in cattle-breeding, barns improvement, etc.

Talking about the second project, Rural Development in the Region of Meghri, Zara says that its goal is to create economic opportunities for increased and sustainable income of small-scale horticulture producers through higher profitability of production and enhanced access to markets. Again, to reach the goal, the project improved different aspects of the production. For example, cooling facilities were introduced, so that farmers could save part of their harvest to sell later for a higher price, during the New Year season for example. The collection center was founded, which allows small farmers, who have difficulties in bringing their fruits to the markets in Yerevan, to sell their harvest right at their door. In the frame of the program few new fruit types were introduced, previously not grown in the region. The importance is that due to climatic differences, apricots, grapes and cherries ripen almost a month earlier than in other places in Armenia, creating a new income source for the community, while before the only season of income was autumn.
Women of the community are involved in producing preserved food and tea, like pomegranate jam, or pomegranate flower tea, successfully sold at the duty-free added in Yerevan’s airport.
Producing dried fruits was quite challenging. A few years ago when farmers tried to export it, they were unsuccessful because Western standards do not allow dried fruits to be produced in an open air environment. Farmers got familiar with the new innovative ways of fruit drying meeting all the hygiene standards.
The most significant result of the program, as Zara says, is that farmers have learnt a lot about agriculture that made their work more productive, whilst also increasing their income. “If in the beginning some of them were suspicious, now they see that they can achieve a lot by using new methods and new approaches. Their interest and involvement is what this was all about”.