By Shakeh Avoyan
Unfavorable weather conditions have cost Armenia’s agriculture at least 14 billion drams ($25 million) in damages this year, hitting hard some 500 rural communities, a senior government official said on Saturday.
“This figure may increase further by the end of the year,” the head of the agriculture ministry’s department of fruit-growing, Razmik Petrosian, told RFE/RL, commenting on an unusually long period of rains in spring and the beginning of this summer.
Some parts of the country were also hit by cold snaps that froze and destroyed crops of cereals. According to the agriculture ministry, bad weather has affected as many as 70,000 hectares of agricultural land.
Farmers growing fruits and vegetables bore the brunt of the heavy rains and hail. The conditions have had a particularly negative impact on apricot harvests which totaled 6,000 metric tons in 2002, twice lower than last year. They led to a dramatic rise in retail prices of agricultural products in May, which heightened inflationary pressures on the economy. The prices began to fall back in mid-July as agricultural supply picked up.
Petrosian said that despite the “significant damage” inflicted on the sector the overall price index this year will not be above the 2001 level. He complained that farmers have no choice but to sell their products to wholesale buyers in Yerevan and other cities at extremely low prices. He said the latter then make hefty profits at the expense of hard-working villagers.
Armenia’s meager government budget prevents the agriculture ministry from providing tangible assistance to the farmers. Despite owning their land, most of them live in poverty and are hugely dependent on weather conditions.