By Atom Markarian
Armenia is on course to bring in its biggest crop of wheat in a decade that will meet nearly two thirds of its bread needs this year, officials from the Agriculture Ministry said on Friday.
Ministry experts forecast that the harvest will yield 420,000 metric tons of grain from 200,000 hectares of land planted with the crop. This would represent a 35 percent increase from last year’s level.
Garnik Petrosian, head of the ministry’s farming department, told RFE/RL that wheat harvesting has already been completed in the southern Ararat Valley and is now in full swing in the highlands covering the rest of the country. “We are getting good harvests in Shirak, Gegharkunik, Syunik,” he said. “So our projections are becoming a reality.”
The forecast bumper yields of wheat will meet at least 60 percent of Armenia’s annual demand in bread. This proportion has rarely exceeded 50 percent in the past.
“We have set the goal of pushing up the level of domestic wheat supplies as much as possible,” Petrosian said, adding that this will allow the country to guard against sudden price increases in the international market.
The most recent of those shocks has been blamed by the Armenian government on the more than 50 percent jump in the retail prices of bread in Armenia over the past year. It has hid hard a large part of the impoverished country’s population for which bread and other cereal products is a key staple food. Some analysts and opposition politicians have linked the price hikes with a de facto monopoly on wheat imports enjoyed by several government-connected businessmen.
The strong cereal harvest appears to be at the heart of a 8 percent increase in agricultural output reported by the government in the first half of the year. The growth came amid extremely low yields of fruits and vegetables caused by a brief cold snap last spring. The fruit-growing Ararat Valley was the hardest hit region
According to Petrosian, weather conditions have by contrast proved very favorable for the crops of wheat and other cereals. He said a further yield increase is possible and could eventually make Armenia self-sufficient in bread production.
The official also predicted that bread prices are unlikely to go up further also because of similarly good wheat harvests in Russia and Ukraine, Armenia’s main external suppliers.