Adding value to agriculture: the story of one Armenian woman
Armine Muradyan resides in Lori region of Armenia, in a community playfully called Gargar of around 1000 people. In a family of six, Armine lives with her husband, two sons, daughter-in-law and grandchild. Her younger son currently serves in the Armenian Army.
"Our community lives mostly on animal breeding and crop cultivation. A small number of people work at the village administration, school, and a military unit in the nearby village”, tells Armine. She explains that in her community mowing and making hay bales are typically the men’s job, while taking care of the cattle and gardening is a shared job between men and women, often supported also by the youngsters. Despite these strong gender perceptions in her community, Armine, together with several female farmers from her village, formed a cooperative to produce high-value vegetables. They named it “The future is ours”, and decided to experience with crops that are not common in the local market.
Everything started five years ago, when with Armine’s initiative and leadership, several women of the village decided to grow non-traditional vegetables - asparagus, ruccola, broccoli - that had a high price and strong demand in the Armenian market. It was not easy to start, but later the experience showed that it was worth doing. The women created an opportunity for self-employment and an additional small source of income, and they gradually attracted the attention of different NGOs and other farmers who were interested in exchanging experiences.
Armine mentions that one of the biggest challenges for them was obtaining a greenhouse, a place where they could grow seedlings of their crops, and then finding a way to move the seeds to the fields for expanded production. This was a vital necessity for them due to the rainy and comparatively colder climate of Lori region.
In 2015, Armine’s group applied to the ENPARD “Producer Group and Value Chain Development” project’s open call in Armenia and, after a competitive process of shortlisting, they were finally selected to be involved in the project. The project, implemented by UNDP and UNIDO Armenia offices is funded by the European Union and Austrian Development Agency, is one of the largest agricultural projects currently implemented in the country. Armine and her fellow farmers received training in cooperative establishment, business skills development and were supported in developing their business plans. “These type of projects expand the role of women within their families and societies, making them stronger and more self-reliant”, explains Armine. With the project’s support, by June 2016, the women farmers were already planting broccoli seeds in their own greenhouse tunnel equipped with a drip irrigation system. The tiny seedlings that grew in hundreds of plastic cups were later transplanted into the nearby field to grow and provide yield.
At the end of summer, Armine is already taking joy from the good harvest, but she is cautious not to rush things: “Once we have a market, we need to be able to comply with their demand and provide a high enough volume of broccoli to the buyers”. Though the youngsters of Armine's family are not interested in agriculture, her husband provides great support in harvesting and sales of the crop.
Slowly but surely, Armine and her team are also thinking of developing other side-products for their business, like producing nutritious broccoli baby food, or growing other cash crops. These self-reliant, entrepreneurial and hardworking women have all the ingredients to succeed as a result of their huge potential, drive and patience in watching the seedlings of their work grow.