An unprecedented spring snowstorm accompanied by freezing temperatures swept through Armenia over the weekend, causing what appears to be massive damage to local agriculture.
The heavy snowfall also blocked some Armenian highways and forced the government to cancel classes in schools and universities across the country on Monday. The national meteorological service warned of a further drop in temperatures expected on Tuesday night.
Farmers in fruit-growing areas south and west of Yerevan bore the brunt of the highly unusual weather condition that killed early blossoms on their orchards serving as a key source of their modest income. Its severe consequences of were particularly palpable in the southern Armavir province.
Farmers in two local villages told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that they will hardly harvest any apricots, peaches, plums or other fruits this summer.
“Ninety-nine percent of my crops are gone,” one man in Voskehat village said as he showed the freeze damage inflicted on his trees. “My grove got frozen last year and the same happened now,” he added grimly.
“I’m 60 and I’ve never seen a snowfall like this at the end of March,” said a woman in neighboring Hovtamej village. “Nothing was spared.”
The calamity also struck vast apricot groves in the low-lying parts of Aragatsotn, a partly mountainous province in central Armenia. “The frost has killed the whole crop,” said a farmer in Lernamerdz, a local village.
The snowstorm left the affected rural households fretting over not only their survival in the months ahead but also repayment of their agricultural loans extended by commercial banks. Mkrtich Hovannisian, a middle-aged farmer in Hovtamej, said he has no choice but to borrow another loan to clear his outstanding debt. Neither he nor other villagers anticipated any significant compensation from the government.
The Ministry of Agriculture last week pre-warned farmers of the anticipated sharp fall in temperatures, recommending a set of protective measures meant to minimize damage. But it did not forecast the snowfall that rendered such efforts meaningless.
The ministry said on Monday with the cold snap not expected to recede before Wednesday the farmers should still heat their greenhouses and burn firewood to protect their crops with smoke. It also said it has set up working groups to evaluate the damage to the Armenian agricultural sector.