By Armen Zakarian
The Armenian government disclosed on Thursday its first proposals for additional U.S. assistance under the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) program, saying it will seek funds to fertilize and expand Armenia’s scarce agricultural lands.
Officials said the cabinet approved a $14 million project drawn up by the Armenian Ministry of Agriculture to “radically improve” the quality of 5,500 hectares of land mostly located in the southern Ararat Valley.
Only 2,500 of it is being cultivated. According to a senior ministry official, Mamikon Gasparian, the U.S. money would increase yields of the crops grown there by up to 40 percent. He said it would also help to make the remaining 3,000 hectares arable.
Gasparian said the project is part of a broader government plan for the melioration of 30,000 hectares of arable land. The plan’s total cost is close to $100 million and its implementation will take years, he said.
The total area of irrigated arable lands in Armenia is estimated at 273,000 hectares. About one third of them are located in the Ararat Valley, the mountainous country’s main supplier of fruits and vegetables.
Armenia, which has already been a major per-capita recipient of U.S. assistance, is eligible for MCA funding along with 15 other developing nations. The stated purpose of the scheme announced by President George W. Bush in 2002 is to promote economic and political reforms around the world.
Under the terms of the MCA, Armenia must submit specific proposals as to how much money it needs and for what purpose. A special government commission headed by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian has been working on them since last spring.
Markarian said earlier that the government would like to primarily spend the extra U.S. funds on the reconstruction of the battered infrastructure of the country’s impoverished rural regions. He said Yerevan hopes to secure at least $500 million in MCA funding in the next five years.