Hundreds of grape growers blocked two major highways south of Yerevan on Friday to protest against the alleged reluctance of struggling Armenian wine and brandy companies to buy their produce.
The residents of several wine-growing villages in the southern Ararat and Armavir provinces said local distilleries have still not started annual wholesale purchases of grapes grown in the area. The buying process has previously begun in early September.
“I listened to the government and grew a big vineyard. Now they won’t sign a purchase contract with me,” complained one elderly farmer blocking a highway running from Yerevan to Armavir.
“Last year I sold 22 tons of grapes and this year I have grown 20 tons,” said another protester. “What should I do with my grapes?”
The grape growers pointed to Agriculture Minister Sergo Karapetian’s repeated promises that all fruits and vegetables grown by Armenian farmers this year will find wholesale buyers. They agreed to unblock the roads after local government officials assured them the grape purchases will start in the coming days.
“[The distilleries] have promised that they will start accepting grapes the day after tomorrow,” Ashot Ghahramanian, the Armavir governor, told the protesters. “They will accept as many kilograms as you have. Not a single kilogram of grapes will remain [unsold.]”
The farmers warned that they will resume their protests if the distilleries do not honor their pledge. They said a further delay would cause their grapes to perish and leave them without a considerable share of their modest annual income.
Russia has long been the main market for brandy and wine distilled in Armenia. This is why Armenian liquor firms have been hit hard by a sharp depreciation of the Russian ruble, which began in June 2014. Many of them suspended their deliveries to the Russian market late last year as a result.
According to Gagik Makarian, the head of an Armenian business association, they now lack cash to buy this year’s Armenian grape harvest. Makarian called on the Armenian government to help the distilleries with tax breaks and direct loans.
Vineyards occupy a large part of agricultural land in southern Armenia and some other parts of the country.
Despite the ruble depreciation, exports of Armenian agricultural products soared by more than 50 percent in physical terms in the first half of this year. Russia was the principal destination of those exports.