By Shakeh Avoyan
Armenia’s agriculture sector expanded this year on the back of a 100 percent jump in wheat output that more than offset the effects of an unusually cold spring weather, Agriculture Minister David Lokian said on Friday.
Government statistics for the first 11 months of 2007 show the sector’s combined output rising by 9.6 percent year-on-year to 577.6 billion drams ($1.9 billion) and generating just over one fifth of the country’s GDP in January-November. According to the National Statistical Service, GDP growth came in at 13.6 percent during that period, putting the Armenian economy on track to growth at a double-digit rate for the sixth consecutive year.
Citing Agriculture Ministry data, Lokian said the growth in agriculture primarily resulted from the doubling of wheat output which totaled 450,000 metric tons. Wheat and other cereal crops were hit particularly hard by last year’s severe summer drought that kept the entire stagnant in 2006.
The other agricultural subsectors posted much more modest production gains. One of them, fruit growing, contracted by 10 percent due to an unusually cold and rainy spring that caused overall agricultural output to shrink by almost 2 percent in the first half of this year. Lokian said bad weather destroyed as much as 90 percent of the anticipated apricot harvest in the Ararat Valley, Armenia’s main fruit-growing region.
The minister admitted that most Armenian farmers will remain heavily dependent on weather conditions in the coming years because of lacking access to irrigation. Armenia’s irrigation networks have fallen into decline since the Soviet collapse and are in need of large-scale capital investments. Hopes for their reconstruction largely hinge on the release of U.S. economic assistance to Armenia under the Millennium Challenge Account program. Most of the promised aid, $146 million, is to be channeled into the battered networks in the next five years.
Speaking at a yearend news conference, Lokian said his ministry and the government as a whole did their best to improve the plight of hundreds of thousands of farmers in the course of 2007. He said the government handed out first-ever post-Soviet subsidies to farmers in 15 villages and plans to expand the scheme to about 300 rural communities next year. It also financed infrastructure projects in more than 80 villages and carried out anti-flooding measures in dozens of others, he said.
“The main burden of this country is on the shoulders of our village folk,” Lokian told journalists. “I hope that for them 2008 will be a year of serious state support.”
“The government is doing its best to help the villagers. But that is clearly not enough,” he added.