Deputy Minister of Agriculture Samvel Galstian said farmers across the country will collect at least 217,000 metric tons of wheat in 2011, up from 183,000 reported by his ministry last year. “The weather this year has been favorable for the republic,” he said.
Galstian also noted a “certain contribution” to the better harvest from more than 1,000 tons of high-quality grain seeds that were imported by the Armenian government from Russia last fall.
The government distributed them to about 150 farmers as part of a plan to gradually raise domestic wheat production to 350,000 tons by 2014.
According to government statistics, the mountainous country of three million consumes an estimated 650,000 tons of wheat each year.
Armenian wheat output steadily declined until 2011, with many local farmers switching to other crops due to poor yields and modest income generated by them. The Ministry of Agriculture estimates that the total area of grain fields has shrunk by roughly one-third to 80,000 hectares since 2004. It hopes that the seed distribution program will help to reverse this trend.
According to Galstian, the government has already purchased a second 110,000-ton batch of “elite” Russian seeds this year.
Farmers willing to receive them must meet a number of stringent requirements, including ownership of at least 7 hectares of land. More importantly, they are not allowed to plant wheat and other cereal seeds in those plots for two consecutive years, a condition which is proving particularly controversial.
Galstian faced angry protests from villagers in the northwestern Shirak region as he met them in the regional capital Gyumri to select those eligible for seed allocations. He said that only 74 of several hundred Shirak farmers who applied for the scheme will receive elite seeds and be able to pay for them in kind in 2012.
Many in the audience walked out of the meeting in protest against what they see as a government policy that favors well-to-do farmers. Some accused the government of cheating.
“I am lying? No, you are lying. You are a liar,” Galstian raged at one of the villagers.
“I have 7 hectares of land and 2 hectares of it are used for other crops, the rest is for wheat and barley,” another disgruntled farmer told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “They are now saying that all seven hectares must be planted with other crops or not cultivated at all [for one year.] But there are 20 persons in my family. What should we do to get by until next year?”
“Only one man from our village has gotten [elite] seeds: the village administration chief,” he claimed.