By Atom Markarian
Armenia’s agricultural sector, heavily dependent on weather conditions, has incurred at least 15 billion drams ($26 million) in damages during the last, unusually cold winter, according to government estimates publicized on Thursday.
Officials said Prime Minister Andranik Markarian has already pleaded Western donor states and agencies for emergency aid to tens of thousands of Armenian farmers who had already been struggling to make ends meet.
Agriculture Minister David Zadoyan said the winter frost, the harshest in decades, destroyed more than 70 percent of vineyards and hit hard other crops across the country. He said that means Armenia’s projected grape harvest will shrink to 20,000 metric tons this year, sharply down from the 80,000-ton level registered in 2002.
Speaking to reporters, Zadoyan forecast that Armenian wine distilleries, which have seen a rapid expansion in recent years, will face serious shortages of grapes this autumn. Armenian wine-growers will need at least two years to recover from the calamity, he added. Most of the country’s vineyards are located in the southern Ararat valley.
According to official figures, the liquor companies’ wholesale purchases of grapes from farmers totaled 47,000 tons last year. Armenia’s single largest buyer of the agricultural produce, the French-owned Yerevan Brandy Company, has already rung alarm bells, apparently fearing a big surge in grape prices.
Zadoyan’s news conference followed a weekly session of the government which formed a special commission tasked with assessing the damage and suggesting ways of dealing with the situation. The minister said the U.S. government has already responded to Markarian’s appeal, pledging to supply $100,000 worth of potato seeds for the Armenian farmers.
The agricultural sector suffered the bulk of the damage in December when air temperatures dropped below minus 30 degrees Celsius.