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About two thousand apricot farmers blocked a major highway in Armenia’s southern Ararat province on Tuesday to demand that wholesale buyers raise the price of their produce.

The farmers complained that a private fruit-exporting company is refusing to pay more than 280 drams (67 U.S. cents) per kilogram of their apricots. They said this price is too low to cover their farming expenditures and should be raised to 500 drams.

“It’s a rip-off,” said one protesting villager.

But not everyone growing fruit in the Ararat Valley agreed. One local resident, who has a big orchard, said he sells his apricots for 400 per kilogram. “Had it not been for those guys, our apricots would have been worth nothing,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).

But the protesters denied this, saying that the purchasing price becomes artificially higher only as a result of weight manipulation. “They are cheating people,” one of them claimed.

Agriculture Minister Sergo Karapetian agreed that the farmers’ complaints are not baseless as he visited northwestern Shirak province. “Their demands are just and we are addressing that problem,” Karapetian told journalists there, referring to the alleged weighing fraud.

One of Karapetian’s deputies, Samvel Galtsian, told the protesters that another Armenia fruit exporter has offered to pay 500 drams per kilogram for their produce. The farmers were skeptical, however. “We won’t believe it until we see it,” one of them said. “We’ll see tonight.”

Another farmer complained that the company called Spayka buys only apricots that were not battered by hail and have an impeccable appearance. He argued that meeting this requirement is extremely hard as recent hailstorms damaged virtually all orchards in the area.
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