By Shakeh Avoyan
Armenia is on course to register a further increase in its crop of wheat this year which will allow it to meet more than two thirds of domestic bread demand, the Ministry of Agriculture said on Friday.
According to Deputy Agriculture Minister Samvel Galstian, early projections show that Armenian farmers will collect 480,000 metric tons of wheat from about 210,000 hectares of land across the country.
This would represent a 3 percent increase from last year’s bumper harvest, the biggest in a decade. Armenian grain output stood at just over 300,000 tons in 2003.
Armenia’s annual consumption of bread and other wheat products is estimated at around 700,000 tons. The country relied on imports to meet at least half of that demand until 2004. The forecast harvest would raise the share of domestic grain supply to about 70 percent.
An Agriculture Ministry official said last year that the government is trying to boost it “as much as possible” in order to guard against sudden price increases in the international market. The most recent of those shocks was blamed by the government on the more than 50 percent jump in the retail prices of bread in Armenia between 2003 and 2004.
Galstian and another deputy minister, Samvel Avetisian, cautioned that the production increases should not disguise the otherwise difficult plight of Armenian agriculture which remains dependent on weather conditions and hamstrung by a lack of cheap credit. Avetisian said farmers can only count on up to $20 million in agricultural loans in 2005.
The 2004 yields of fruit and vegetables, for example, were extremely low due to a brief cold snap last spring. The fruit-growing Ararat Valley in southern Armenia was hit particularly hard.