The Future of Meghri Lies With Its Youth
The class bell rings. Children from different directions, with excitement run into the building surrounded by clear blue sky and high mountains of Meghri. It is the beginning of the academic year in the secondary school of the town of Agarak, situated in the southernmost region of Armenia. This year is quite special for the school. For the first time in its history young agronomy enthusiasts graduate from the newly established agronomy stream class.
Here, in the region of Meghri the weather conditions are exceptional. Being located in a semi-desert zone, the rocky mountains and high cliffs heat up in summer creating subtropical conditions for various fruits to grow. Naturally, the population of the region heavily depends on the agriculture industry. And the future of Meghri’s agriculture lies with its youth.
The nationwide demand for educated agronomists is particularly highlighted in Meghri. The lack of specialists in the field of rural economy is noticeable. For the purpose of enhancing the local education system and integrating agriculture across the school curriculum, the Swiss funded project “Markets for Meghri” (implemented by the Center for Agribusiness and Rural Development CARD) brings together the three main actors and sets a start to the process. Following the tripartite agreement between the Ministry of Education and Science, the Ministry of Agriculture and the local Municipality, two schools took the initiative of establishing stream classes in agronomy.
“People, who are armed with knowledge will easily reach effective results in what they do, using modern techniques and technologies, rather than the methods passed by their ancestors,” says Erna Barkhudaryan, the director of the Secondary School of Agarak town. As one of the most active and energetic directors of the region, Erna pitched her school to be a part of the project.
Three years ago, when the project just started, Erna’s everlasting enthusiasm helped her in overcoming the fear of failure. “In the beginning students, as well as the instructors were skeptical. We were a little afraid of not reaching the estimated results,” admits Erna. According to her, the students of the high school did not see the potential in becoming agronomists, with the back thought of being stuck in their small gardens. After all, the years of hard work and determination proved them to be mistaken. This year the first eight students who choose the track of agronomy are graduating from Agarak high school, five of which will continue their studies at the Agrarian University in the capital city Yerevan. And the numbers are growing. The three-year program counts about 50 students as of now.
But how did the picture change? Perhaps the authentic learning environment is the answer. Teachers indicate that learning about agriculture is beneficial to students, because the learning tasks themselves are authentic and based on experiences. Students benefited from the laboratory activities, agro-science kits, field trips, demonstrations, and guest speakers that provide active learning environments for students.
And indeed, the “hands-on” experience is more than effective! By initiating a three-day study tour, CARD Foundation aimed at presenting to the students the nationwide demand for agronomists, as well as acquainting them with higher education institutions, where they can continue their studies. To that end, students were taken to the Armenia Tree Project nursery, to see the exemplary case of nursery operations, at the same time learn about ATP’s operations and their successes. Students were taken to certain processing plants as well, such as Arcolad Chocolate production, where they saw where Meghri dried fruits go and how processing can add value to the production. The trip continued at CARD Foundation, with an introductory session on what generally goes on in the agriculture industry at national level.
This three-day tour is just one example out of many. Periodical study tour are being organized in the region of Meghri itself. While being more flexible and cost efficient, these trips are just as informative. Thanks to the “M4M” project there are a number of successful and sustainable beneficiaries who are always ready to share the valuable experience with the young high school students. For example, a non-formal dried fruits producing cooperative, which is a developed local producer is a regular location for such trips.
15-year-old Lusine, a tenth grade student from the Agarak high school says, “Visiting a greenhouse has definitely been the highlight of the past year!” Young Lusine is one of the most determined students of the program. “There are many issues in this world, but the protection of our environment is the most prominent one,” says Lusine passionately. As a first year student, Lusine is already succeeding in all the three courses of the program, which are Gardening, Food Processing and Technologies, and Environment Protection.
Providing the valuable hands-on experience to the students is not limited to the study tours. An essential part of the program has been the construction of an orchard and a greenhouse on the nearby lands of the Agarak School. In addition to practicing the knowledge gained in the classroom and putting theories in action, the harvest from the orchard and the greenhouse should help out the school with its feeding program. “Last year we were working with the agronom from the CARD Foundation, with whom the students planted melons and watermelons, using modern technologies,” says Erna Barkhudaryan. Next year, Erna is planning to double the tree count of the orchard and solve its watering problem. “At the moment we use drinking water to keep the trees alive.” However, the challenges do not stop there. Due to harsh winds the maintenance of the greenhouse is also quite problematic. “The fear of frostbite stops the students from growing different vegetable species in the greenhouse. Currently we grow only radish and hope to continue with the school feeding initiative. Being sure that the frostbite will not cause any problems, the students will proceed with cultivating different vegetables,” concludes Erna.