The Armenian government will distribute free seeds and seedlings to scores of farmers in the southern Armavir province to help them partly recoup their losses incurred as a result of a powerful hailstorm, a senior official announced on Friday.
Deputy Agriculture Minister Garnik Petrosian said the Ministry of Agriculture has already started negotiating with Armenian importers and sent one of its specialists to Russia to expedite the purchase of 44 tons of fruit and vegetable seeds. He said the ministry also plans to buy 200,000 seedlings of the same crops as part of the relief effort.
They are to be provided to low-income farmers in 43 Armavir villages where crops were partly or fully destroyed by the hailstorm on Sunday. Much of the damage was inflicted on the local vineyards and fruit orchards. Some local villagers have staged a series of protests to demand financial compensation from the government.
The government made clear on Wednesday that it can only partly compensate them for their losses. Speaking at an emergency meeting chaired by Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian, Agriculture Minister Sergo Karapetian said farmers could offset some of the damage by replanting crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers and water melons.
Petrosian told journalists that the Agriculture Ministry is also ready to sell them fertilizers and tractor fuel needed for the planting at discount prices.
The announced measures will hardly satisfy most of the affected farmers. Some of them claimed on Friday that it is too late to grow those crops anew. “What should I do with those seeds?” one of them, Yeghiazar Asmarian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“The seeds have already lost 80 percent of their fertility,” said another farmer, Asatur Hayrapetian. “Crops don’t grow anew in June because the sun heats up the upper layer of soil. That is why people plant crops in spring.”
Both men said that the government should instead make sure that commercial banks freeze the repayment of agricultural loans provided to thousands of Armavir villagers. The latter hoped to repay them this fall with proceeds from the sale of their fruits and vegetables.
According to Petrosian, the government will consider a loan repayment freeze as well as financial compensation to some farmers after it calculates the monetary value of the damage caused by hail.