The Armenian authorities are looking into ways of alleviating severe damage inflicted by hailstorms on farmers in dozens of villages this summer, Agriculture Minister Ignati Arakelian said on Monday.
The hailstorms struck those communities in June and last week, destroying a large part of crops grown there. Many local farmers lost much of their income planned for this year. Most of them have outstanding debts to commercial banks. They planned to repay them with proceeds from sales of their fruits and vegetables.
In recent weeks residents of some of the affected communities have blocked nearby highways to demand urgent government assistance.
Arakelian said central and local government officials are still gauging the damage from hail in six of Armenia’s ten provinces. In the meantime, the authorities in Yerevan are considering a range of measures to somehow compensate the desperate farmers, he said. Those include full or partial exemptions from payment of agricultural land tax and irrigation water fees.
“Regarding land tax, after all the damage is ascertained there will be another decision by the government on the extent to which they can be compensated,” Arakelian told a news conference. “As for irrigation water, it has been agreed that in the damaged areas there will be a lenient regime for the collection of irrigation water fees so that water supply is not cut until the irrigation season is over.”
The minister also said that the Central Bank of Armenia (CBA) has “taken steps” to have farmers’ debt repayments postponed or extended. He did not elaborate.
Many farmers are very skeptical about such assurances, saying that the government has failed to help them after previous natural disasters. Amberd, a village in the Armavir province, was hit hard by hail both last month and in 2016.
“They have still not given us any assistance [for 2016,]” the village mayor, Manvel Babayan, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “There has only been a little compensation for irrigation water but nothing on land tax.”
“The villagers don’t believe me anymore,” Babayan said. “I’m just saying that I’m an optimist … I don’t know. What should we do? Whom should we believe?”
The mayor of another Armavir village, Aygeshat, accused the authorities of not honoring their pledge to freeze debt repayments in 2016.