Tens of thousands of farmers across Armenia have received this spring diesel fuel for tractors and other agricultural machines at prices subsidized by the government, a senior government official said on Wednesday.
The government approved the scheme in February as part of its promised efforts to boost state support for the country’s struggling agricultural sector. The Armenian Ministry of Agriculture was allocated 1.3 billion drams ($3.4 million) to offer a total of 12,600 tons of diesel to farmers for 350 drams per liter in time for the spring crop planting. The ministry purchased the fuel from a private company for 440 drams per liter.
According to Deputy Agriculture Minister Samvel Galstian, just over 8,300 liters of it has been distributed in all Armenian provinces since then. Commenting on the less-than-anticipated volume of those deliveries, Galstian said the government has supplied as much subsidized fuel as the farmers were ready to pay for.
The program’s implementation has clearly been less than smooth. Local government officials complained in early March that many villagers lack the money and storage facilities to buy large quantities of fuel at once.
In at least one region, Ararat, some villagers claim to have been able to buy even cheaper fuel from the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), a junior partner in the governing coalition that engaged in controversial benevolent activities ahead of the May 6 parliamentary elections. Residents of the local village of Lusarat said the BHK charged them only 300 drams per liter.
“Fifty drams is a lot of money for people here,” one Lusarat farmer told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) as he worked at his vineyards in a tractor. “The price is good, and that man buys our grapes,” he said in an apparent reference to a nearby winery owned by BHK leader Gagik Tsarukian.
Daniel Hakobian, the Lusarat mayor, insisted, however, that the BHK is not responsible for the shortfall in the purchases of government-subsidized fuel. “It’s just that people had no cash,” he said.
Galstian, the deputy minister, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that despite the shortfall the government will continue to subsidize diesel prices for farmers in the coming months and next year.
The government has also been subsidizing the equally important prices of fertilizers as well as interest rates on agricultural loans.