Hundreds of angry farmers blocked a road in Armenia on Tuesday to demand that the government compensate them for massive damage caused by a powerful hailstorm that swept through the country the previous night.
The protesters were mainly residents of eight villages in the Armavir province west of Yerevan which reportedly bore the brunt of the storm. According to the Armenian Agriculture Ministry, hailstones destroyed between 40 and 100 percent of crops grown in those communities.
Local residents thus fully or partly lost their main source income for this year. Many of them have outstanding debts to commercial banks. They planned to repay their agricultural loans with proceeds from sales of their fruits and vegetables.
“The hail destroyed the whole harvest here,” said one of the villagers blocking an Armavir highway. “Whatever money was invested here is lost.”
“We need to have some kind of assistance from the state so that we can feel better and don’t leave this country,” said another man.
The protesters unblocked the road after Deputy Agriculture Minister Ashot Harutiunian and Armavir’s governor, Ashot Ghahramanian, visited and spoke to them. The officials, who also toured the affected communities, promised to submit compensation proposals to the government within the next ten days. The farmers were skeptical about those assurances.
“They say that [repayment of] our loans will be postponed until next year,” one of them told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “But we haven’t seen such things until now.”
“Last year there was an even stronger hailstorm,” said another villager. “Not a single leaf was left on these trees. Our governor fooled us, saying that they will compensate and help us in every other way. But they did nothing.”
The protesting farmers also complained about the absence of hail cannons in most of their communities.
An Agriculture Ministry statement quoted Harutiunian as saying that hail cannons deployed in other parts of Armavir as well as the neighboring Aragatsotn province “worked intensively” during Monday’s hailstorm. “Otherwise, the damage would have been much greater,” the vice-minister said.
Every year a considerable part of farming production in Armenia is lost due to hail. The Armenian government has sought to limit the damage by financing or subsidizing the installation of hundreds of hail cannons across the country. Many villages still lack such facilities.
Also, the effectiveness of the cannons is questioned by some agriculture experts. Earlier this year, Prime Minister Karen Karapetian discussed with relevant government officials alternative ways of protecting harvests, including anti-hail nets.