Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian made a case for the consolidation of Armenia’s fragmented land holdings on Friday, saying that it would boost the agricultural sector and reduce widespread rural poverty.
Sarkisian stressed in that context the importance of the ongoing establishment of agricultural cooperatives in 55 mountainous villages across the country.
The process is part of a $21 million government program to support livestock farming there. The program, mostly financed by the World Bank, aims to boost meat and milk production and improve pasture management in those impoverished communities that are home to roughly 78,000 people.
Much of that assistance is to be channeled into local infrastructures through agricultural cooperatives. In particular, the government has pledged to contribute half of the funds needed for their purchase of tractors and other agricultural machinery.
Sarkisian inaugurated last April the first such cooperative set up in a remote village in northwestern Shirak province.
Speaking at a conference on farming held in Yerevan, the premier said all 55 collective farms envisaged by the program will be established by the end of next year. As a result, he said, agricultural output in those communities will grow by 30 percent each year.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Armenia has approximately 403,000 hectares of arable land owned by as many as 340,000 physical and legal entities. The vast majority of them are village families eking out a modest living.
The government says that farm consolidation is essential for making farming more profitable in the country. It has also pledged continued investments in roads, irrigation networks and other rural infrastructures that have fallen into decline since the Soviet collapse.
Farmers attending the conference were skeptical about these promises, saying that their communities have so far received little government support.
“The situation in our village is very bad,” Gagik Babakhanian, a resident of a village in southern Ararat, province told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). He cited the rising cost of land cultivation and high interest rates on agricultural loans.
“There are a number of problems that have existed and will exist because nobody tries to solve them,” said Armen Harutiunian, a farmer from neighboring Armavir province. “Credit is very expensive.”
“In our village few people use those loans and they have to do that to repay previous loans,” he said.