Last week the road took me to Zoravan village in Kotayq Marz to witness the current developments in Armenia’s organic agriculture. Three years ago you wouldn’t been able to find this village in any list of agricultural spots of Armenia, but from now on, take out your gadget, google Armberry plantation and mark this new organic hotspot location.
In 2014, a group of eight professionals from the Diaspora and Armenia decided to challenge themselves and targeted Armenia’s almost non-existent organic industry to codify a set of ideals into a pioneering organic agricultural management system and established the first ‘’Made in Armenia’’ organic berry production focusing on the large-scale export.
After a series of research based on the suitability of the local conditions, employment demands and long-term potential, the decision to start a trial project and plant raspberry and blackberry on 10 hectares land of a 90 hectares property that the company owns in Zoravan village was made. The property was chosen according to its location, as founders were seeking for a land to be close to the villages, so that they can involve more locals in production.
If you haven’t been in the village yet, you will be surprised with the deserted land around you. That’s why local farmers only grow wheat, apple and walnut trees, products requiring minimum effort to take care of. From Yeghvard to Zoravan you can spot few “oases’’, but to imagine, that there can be an organic berry paradise, never.
After three years of operation, Armberry broke all the stereotypes of traditional agriculture and is about to march the new era of organic food production in Armenia by implementing the innovational spirit of 21st century.
This year the company is having its first commercial harvest, which is the result of hard work, determination, professional management and the intention to have export oriented high-quality berry production, that meets all the required standards. I was lucky enough to meet the Chairman Avetik Chalabyan and Executive Director Harutyun Pakhchanyan, who shared Armberry’s progress, but also gave some insights on the future development of the organic agriculture in Armenia. Also, I ended up tasting my first ever organic yellow raspberry there, which was a pretty exciting experience.
Going Organic: Challenges and Perspectives
Agriculture is recognized as the priority sector due to two principle reasons. First, it is one of the key sectors for export, second, the lion's share of revenues of the rural population comes from agriculture products and hired labor.
Despite the fact that development perspectives are covering sector’s potential needs, the growing importance of organic agriculture isn’t fully emphasized. This converges to state, that massive gap in enacting policies for assisting organic agriculture is present, so are the challenges for private sector to overcome. Also, the economical and environmental benefits of organic agriculture haven’t fully captured the attention of professional institutions, as they generally lack the resources and training to effectively participate in international standard-setting processes, to adapt systems to fulfill the requirements of the regional conditions and to develop production management strategies.
These gaps lead to huge uncertainties, as the lack of information and recourses create the mentality of local farmers to classify their operations as organic with having an adverse effect on expanding the importance of organic production. Another very important issue is the traditional way of thinking among local farmers, who, sometimes, aren’t willing to share their experience with others and act collectively.
Fortunately, the private sector has taken the steps of transforming this traditional, risky and very unpredictable industry.
Armberry’s visionaries have defined another challenge which could cause difficulties in post-production process. As an export oriented sector, agriculture needs easy mechanisms for tax services, transportation, etc. Unfortunately, one can simplify all the procedures after wasting couple of days on documentation process, which, certainly, is not what the sector needs and it is the state, that is responsible for the implementation of policies to regulate the system.
Indeed, there are some key responsibilities, that government should take care of, but the perspectives of growing sustainable economy on empowering organic agriculture sector is very much promising.
Silver Bullet Solutions
Despite facing those challenges, organic agriculture has the perspectives to expand its social and economic impact in Armenia and become the initiator of agricultural innovations.
Sustainable development of this sector requires substantial investments in techniques, which will provide the necessary quality. Armberry production has created and implemented its own strategies starting from drip irrigation system, soil enrichment, various planting and harvesting schedules and many more details.
‘’You have to be ready for ‘’learning by doing’’ concept. Every experience adds a new insight which can be crucial for the process. Sometimes mistakes can be costly, but there is no other way to succeed’’ says Harutyun Pakhchanyan.
As for silver bullet solutions, which can promote and enhance organic food production, foster the the knowledge and skill base, open new market opportunities and increase the employment needs, Armberry has its own, experience based formula:
-Employ hardworking, professional and dedicated staff, who learns fast, is ready for innovations and has the discipline to take the vision further
-Implement holistic management system which increases the productivity of the process and be open to share the experience with others
-Use the impact of innovation and get rid of traditional agricultural mentality to expand the ‘’Made in Armenia’’ organic food production to every corner of the world.
-Do a good market analysis, which will take your production further and increase the productivity
-Be ready to invest and make mistakes
These are what Armberry visionaries have done during 3 years of operation, but more than that, they have changed the attitude towards organic agriculture by increasing the social and economical impact both on market and on locals’ perceptions.
As the first ‘’Made in Armenia’’ organic berry production Armberry is the perfect trampoline for others to dig into and put Armenia on the world’s organic hotspot map.