By Atom Markarian
Armenia’s agricultural output rose by 4.3 percent last year despite adverse weather conditions, Agriculture Minister David Lokian said on Wednesday.
The figure was announced after government hearings on the Agriculture Ministry’s activities in 2003. Prime Minister, who chaired them, found the performance “satisfactory.”
Lokian told reporters that the Armenian agricultural sector, hamstrung by a lack of cheap credit and weak domestic demand, expanded despite poor wheat and fruit harvests. He said the overall wheat production plunged 27 percent. This was apparently one of the reasons for last year’s major increase in bread prices that hit hard many impoverished people.
Lokian also singled out what he said was a 21 decrease in the important grape output resulting from a bitter cold snap that wreaked havoc on the wine-producing Ararat valley in December 2002. The area’s other traditional crops such as apricots and peaches also took a severe battering.
According to Armenia’s largest wholesale buyer of grapes, the French-owned Yerevan Brandy Company, the harvest drop was in fact much more drastic. The company’s chief executive, Pierre Larretche, insisted in October that Armenian wine-growers collected only 26,000 metric tons of grape, and not 50,000 tons as is claimed by the Agriculture Ministry.
Lokian claimed that the unfavorable conditions did not prevent a further overall improvement in the agricultural sector, citing a sizable increase in exports of Armenian food products. Armenia has for the first time exported large quantities of cheese to Russia and the United States, he said.