Exports of Armenian fruits and vegetables as well as their purchases by domestic food-processing companies are continuing to increase rapidly, a senior Armenian government official said on Tuesday.
Deputy Agriculture Minister Robert Makarian said Armenia has exported over 85,000 metric tons of fresh agricultural products so far this year, up by 71 percent compared with the same period in 2015. The fastest growth was recorded in exports of tomatoes, he told a news conference.
Armenian agricultural exports soared by more than 40 percent, in monetary terms, to $50 million in the first half of 2016, according to the National Statistical Service (NSS). The government agency also reported a 35 percent rise in first-half exports of alcoholic and soft drinks and prepared foodstuffs, which totaled $180 million.
Armenian exports to Russia, the main market for those products, nearly doubled to $168 million in January-June.
Makarian predicted a 35 percent surge in the physical volume of fruits and vegetables that will be purchased by Armenian liquor firms and canneries from farmers this year. It should reach 98,000 tons, he said, adding that tomatoes will account for just over half of the total.
Armenian exports to Russia plummeted by nearly 27 percent in 2015 primarily because of a sharp depreciation of the Russian ruble. With oil prices beginning to rally in January, the Russian currency has strengthened against the U.S. dollar this year, translating into more revenue for Armenian exporters.
The exporters also seem to be capitalizing on Armenia’s accession to the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union and a ban on food imports to Russia from Europe and Turkey.
Despite the increased demand for agricultural products shown by government figures, scores of farmers from five villages in Armenia’s Armavir province blocked a major highway last week to protest against what they called a lack of wholesale buyers of their tomatoes.
Some of those farmers said on Tuesday that a number of local canneries offered to buy their produce after the protest. But they said those companies are setting extremely low prices or refusing to pay farmers upfront.
One villager said he was told that he would not be paid before December. “Who is going to repay my loans until then?” he complained.
Makarian dismissed the Armavir protest as premature, saying that the farmers staged it even before their tomatoes were ripe for harvest. He also said they should agree to be paid in installments because wine and brandy distilleries and canneries usually suffer from liquidity shortages in summer and autumn months.
“They must not present that as a tragedy,” said the vice-minister. “Everyone wants to be paid upfront when selling their produce. But we must take into account our reality.”
Some Armenian farmers have still not received payments for grapes sold to distilleries last year. Aghavnadzor, a village in the wine-growing Vayots Dzor province, is a case in point.
Haykaz Asatrian, an Aghavnadzor resident, said Vedi Alco, one of Armenia’s largest wine producers and the main buyer of local grapes, has repeatedly broken its promises to pay the grape farmers. “The situation is terrible,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “We are sick and tired of false promises.”
Markarian downplayed the problem, however, saying that wine and brandy firms owe only 830 million drams ($1.75 million) to farmers across the country for last fall’s grape purchases worth 31.5 billion drams.