Output in Armenia’s agriculture sector has grown by 6.5 percent this year despite a severe spring blizzard that destroyed major fruit crops such as apricots, Agriculture Minister Sergo Karapetian said on Wednesday.
He said agricultural production in the country totaled about 930 billion drams ($2 billion) in January-November, generating approximately one-fifth of Gross Domestic Product. Growth in other major sectors of the Armenian economy, notably manufacturing, was more modest, according to official statistics.
Data from the Armenian Agriculture Ministry cited by Karapetian at a news conference shows that much of this gain results from increases in the total area of agricultural land cultivated by farmers and their modest livestock holdings. In particular, this translated into an 11 percent rise in meat production.
Karapetian also reported a record-high nationwide wheat harvest of 340,000 tons, which satisfied just over half of Armenia’s annual demand for wheat. The mountainous country imported two-thirds of its wheat as recently as in 2012.
The farming sector was dealt a severe blow in March when a late snowstorm swept through Armenia, destroying apricots and other spring crops grown by tens of thousands of farmers. As a result, production of apricots, a key agricultural export item, plummeted to 15,000 tons from about 90,000 tons in 2013.
In Karapetian’s words, the damage to farming output was offset by strong wheat, potato and grape harvests. He also pointed out that exports of Armenian fruits and vegetables to Russia surged after the Russian government banned food imports from Europe and the United States in August.
Karapetian went on to predict that those exports will rise further in 2015 thanks to Armenia’s membership in the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union. He cautioned, though, that Armenian farmers should consolidate their mostly small land holdings and set up cooperatives if they are to feel “tangible” benefits of the better access to the Russian market.
The non-governmental Armenian Agrarian-Agricultural Union questioned some of the production increases reported by the ministry. “It has not been a good year for agriculture,” its chairman, Hrach Berberian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Farmers selling their produce in a Yerevan market were also far from satisfied. Many of them dismissed Karapetian’s claims that the Armenian government is increasingly subsidizing the prices of seeds, fuel and fertilizers used by them. “There is no such thing,” said one woman. “Government leaders always deceive farmers.”