Empowering women in Armenia: Growing hope in greenhouses

"Actually, they are the chiefs of the greenhouse", Marietta laughs showing her daughters of 11 and 12, who run along the high tunnels of pepper and tomatoes while demonstrating how they do artificial pollination in the greenhouse.

Marietta moved to Tavush at the age of seven. Back in 1989, the village of Ptghavan sheltered her family who fled their home in the Vardashen region of Soviet Azerbaijan. The family of eight children farmed to make ends meet. Marietta left school after finishing 8th grade, as the family could no longer afford her tuition costs. At 22 she met Armen. Shortly after, they got married and moved to Voskevan to live with his parents. Throughout 13 years of marriage, they’ve had to face many hardships, but as Marietta says, they’ve also managed to form a strong partnership.

Life in their remote bordering village is not easy. Amongst the statistics, they represent another number that makes up the region’s high level of poverty and migration. While talking about the family’s income sources, the disability allowance of her husband and the retirement pension of her parents-in-law come first. The young mother of three has to manage the household mostly on her own because of her husband’s visual impairment.  Still, Marietta doesn’t complain. Against the odds, Marietta and Armen aren’t considering leaving the village for better wages and have turned down the invitations of many relatives living abroad. Especially now, she says, that she has started greenhouse farming.

It is Marietta’s first season of greenhouse growing. With support from UNDP’s Project “Integrated Support to Rural Development: Building Resilient Communities”, funded by the Government of the Russian Federation, she was among several female rural community members who were selected to receive a 135 m2 energy-efficient greenhouse.  The greenhouse production, she says, has brought new hope for her family.

In Armenia, the statistics on economic inclusion and the job market show a clear inequality in income between men and women. The number of economically non-active female housekeepers outweighs the number of men in the same category. Meanwhile female-headed households are more likely to be poor when compared to male-headed households (in 2013 this figure stood at 36.4% vs. 30.5%).

Economically empowering Armenia’s women has been an integral part of UNDP’s community development projects that have been implemented over the past 10 years. In this regard, greenhouse cultivation seems to hit multiple targets at once when used as a tool for raising the income of women in rural areas and advancing their economic inclusion.

Marietta admits, it is much easier to grow vegetables in the controlled conditions of the greenhouse, which is protected against the weather, allows for clean farming, and provides higher income due to off-season farming and the opportunity to grow high-value crops. For Marietta, it is also a big relief to have the greenhouse right in her backyard, where she can work without losing the sight of her children or taking care of the other household tasks. In addition, the greenhouse solves the problem of scarcity or inaccessibility of agricultural land in the community that have arisen as a result of safety issues or the lack of technical skills and limited access of women to agricultural inputs. Through the project, Marietta received high quality seeds and a training on greenhouse cultivation. "She became а real pro," Armen says.

Marietta gives the tomatoes and peppers she produces to the local shop for sale. Her daughters show the notebook where they keep the record of their sales and earnings. With a few weeks left before the start of the school term, the girls plan to go shopping to get new stationary and clothes for the upcoming school year. Marietta looks forward to the off-season sale, when the price for vegetables will rise and she can sell in bigger quantities. "Now", she says, "I feel more assured that our children will get education and maybe in the near future we can live separately in our own house. I enjoy working in the greenhouse", she adds. "I don’t even think about leaving Voskevan. Now I cannot imagine leaving my greenhouse", she laughs. "It means a lot to us. It makes me believe that we can provide a better future for our children. It gives us hope".


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