For centuries the region of Meghri has been famous in Armenia for producing high quality fruit: persimmons, pomegranates, and figs. The region’s sub-tropical climate is perfect for growing, and consumer demand for these fruits is high. But recent history, namely the collapse of the Soviet Union and a lack of investment in agriculture has meant that many local farmers have been unable to make the most of their potential.
A fragile economic and geopolitical situation
Most fruit growers in the Meghri region only farm at subsistence level. Following privatisation in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenia’s farms were broken up into a great many smallholdings. Of around 340,000 private farms in operation today, most average just 1.5 hectares. Armenia has been slow to adapt to the new, smaller farms, meaning many farmers have little support when it comes to market access. Moreover, the Meghri region has its own special geographic problems: it is bordered in the west by Azerbaijan, a border which has been closed due to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, and to the south by Iran. The sensitive geopolitical situation of Armenia and the fear that the region could once again become unstable, have hindered economic development. In addition, most agricultural supplies can be sourced only in the capital Yerevan, a road journey of at least seven hours. These various factors have contributed in the region of Meghri to unemployment estimated at 15%, twice the national average. At the same time the population is ageing, almost 20% of Meghri’s residents have reached retirement age and younger people are leaving to seek a better life in the cities.
Putting Meghri fruit back on the map
The SDC project is helping fruit growers to improve yields and quality with the goal of increasing their income, and is putting in place a number of measures to assist market access:
The project encourages farmers to get together to buy bulk supplies (fertiliser and pesticides, etc.) and to improve their bargaining power with suppliers and distributors
It has been encouraging suppliers to set-up shop directly in the Meghri region
Eleven model orchards have been established to showcase the best species of tree and most modern cultivation techniques and to raise the fruit growers' awareness of environmental risks
The project is also encouraging the local government to formulate a strategy for creating a climate more conducive to investment in fruit growing through public-private partnerships
A noticeable impact
Trees take time to mature and start bearing fruit, so an increase in production will not happen overnight. However, the support and advice offered and the measures taken have already had an impact: fruit growers in Meghri are investing more in their land and are planting more trees thanks to the training they have received. Encouraging producers to get together to buy products such as fertiliser and pesticides in bulk has reduced the prices actually paid by about 20%. Another case in point is the new investment the project has secured for the fruit processing factory in Meghri, which has enabled it to launch into the production of new fruit juices and thus purchase more raw materials from the fruit growers.