By Armen Zakarian
Senior government officials discussed on Wednesday preparations for the upcoming distribution of fertilizers which they hope will alleviate the severe damage inflicted on Armenia’s agriculture by the last, unusually cold winter.
The assistance was made possible by a $1.3 million grant provided by the World Bank. Agriculture Minister David Lokian said thousands of tons of fertilizers are already being imported into Armenia from Iran and will soon be distributed to farmers in the worst affected areas.
“These are very effective and badly substances,” he told reporters after the meeting.
The World Bank assistance is the most significant of measures taken by the Armenian government against the consequences of a December cold snap that wreaked havoc on rural areas across the country, particularly the fruit-growing Ararat Valley. A large part of its traditional crops -- grapes, apricots and peaches -- was destroyed by the freeze. Officials estimated the total damage caused by the harsh winter at 26 billion drams ($45 million), a substantial figure by Armenian agricultural standards.
It is hoped that the fertilizers will revive at least some of the frozen vines and trees. But critics say that the government was too slow in responding to the calamity.
Lokian said his ministry had initially planned to purchase the fertilizers in Russia but later opted for Iran after having disagreements with Russian suppliers. The change of plans delayed the shipment of the aid, he explained.
Unfavorable weather conditions regularly take a heavy toll on Armenian agriculture which has had difficult times over the past decade. Particularly damaging are frequent hailstorms. The authorities had in the past tackled the problem with the help of special shells fired from cannons. But the state-run anti-hail service effectively ceased to exist following the Soviet collapse.
According to Lokian, the Armenian government is now interested in an alternative method of preventing hail precipitation widely used in France. He said French President Jacques Chirac promised to help Armenia deal with the problem during President Robert Kocharian’s visit to Paris earlier this month.
Lokian also said that despite the harsh winter Armenia will register a substantial increase in the exports of its food products this year.