Agriculture Minister Sergo Karapetian again made a case for the consolidation of Armenia’s modest land holdings on Wednesday, saying that is vital for sustainable development of the struggling agricultural sector.
“This is a serious problem for us because agriculture will not develop in this way,” he told reporters. “A few years later we may not have even such [growth] indicators. That is why we must definitely organize the enlargement and consolidation of farms.”
“But farmers should do that voluntarily. They should unite and create cooperatives,” said Karapetian.
Armenia has approximately 403,000 hectares of arable land that was owned by as many as 340,000 physical and legal entities, most of them low-income farmers, as of 2010. Despite sizable rises in agricultural output reported by the government in the last three years, many farmers complain that they are increasingly struggling to earn a living.
“We borrowed an agricultural loan to plant cabbage, beans, cucumbers and earn some money, but they cut irrigation water too early this autumn and we got no revenue,” one woman in the fruit-growing Ararat Valley told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) recently.
“We have a hard time paying land tax and water tax,” complained another local farmer. “We don’t have enough revenue. There are people who own many hectares of land, they can somehow get by. But those who own smaller plots are more and more mired in debt and have to sell their land.”
Karapetian said such complaints only prove him right. “If a person has half a hectare of land, no matter which expensive crops he grows he can’t make enough profits to support his family for a whole year,” he said.
The Armenian government has already declared land consolidation a top priority in its agricultural development policy. Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian said in late 2011 that more than 50 agricultural cooperatives would be set up by the end of 2012 in impoverished communities located in mountainous areas.
Hranush Kharatian, a prominent sociologist, is skeptical about that strategy, saying that a large part of agricultural land is now owned by wealthy individuals with close ties to the government.
“Agriculture is now profitable but it is profitable for a handful of people,” Kharatian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “It is obvious that in Armenia no cooperative can compete with big land owners, most of whom also have administrative levers both individually and as a class.”
According to government statistics, Armenian agricultural output rose by over 8 percent in January-October 2012, helped by favorable weather conditions that strongly boosted crop farming. Karapetian estimated that full-year domestic production of fruits and vegetable rose by as much as 75 percent. “We still have many unsolved problems but by and large it has been a good and positive year for agriculture,” the minister said.