Farmers of Meghri: M4M Project Closure
Summer 2018 marks the completion of the “Markets for Meghri” project, through which Switzerland assisted the fruit-growers in the southernmost region of Armenia, Meghri, in improving and developing their crops, and selling their products on the local and foreign markets. Over the course of 6 years the project covered more than 1800 households involved in fruit cultivation, increasing the incomes of the involved producers by more than 1.000.000 CHF. But who is better to tell the story of the project, other than four of the farmers who have benefited and grown their businesses throughout the project.
Artur and Samvel Hakobyans
When brothers Arthur and Samvel Hakobyan started farming in the early-2000s, “We had no idea of the great opportunities awaiting for us,” says Arthur Hakobyan, one of the biggest fig exporters in the region of Meghri.
“Things were tough back when we were starting, back when the M4M project was starting” Hakobyan recalls with a smile on his face. “A tiny booth was all we owned at the time.”
The booth was tiny, the production volumes were insignificant, but the will to grow and the enthusiasm was never on the short side. Operating from an eight square meter counter, Hakobyan brothers put start to their fruit collection center, bringing together the small scale producers of the region.
Today, having passed a long road with the M4M project, Hakobyan brothers are in their prime. The memorable for the brothers 2013 was the production and export kickoff year. Since then the volumes of the produced and exported goods add up to more than 12 tons a year, while the starting point was only 500 kg. “We are proud to export high quality fresh and dried figs, and persimmons to the Swiss, Russian, Canadian and US markets.”
Over the years of their involvement in the project Arthur and Samvel have introduced new services and techniques to their fellow small scale farmers of the region, creating 8 seasonal and two prominent workplaces, as well as collecting fruits from 50 producers.
Arevik Mailyan, a committed herbal tea producer says almost everything she has learnt during the years of her involvement in the project was born of necessity. “The short lifespan of the products produced by us is what really sets the rules.”
The fairly small, 43-householded, community of Lichk village, an active part of which is Arevik, stands out from the region with its climate.
With the start of the M4M project the farming career of Arevik started as well. Being offered the opportunity of developing mountainous herbal tea production in her community, Arevik has initiated a three-member group of women farmers. Together with her teammates, and with the assistance of CARD Foundation, Arevik has grown her production volumes from 0 kg up to 1000 kg in just two years.
“The biggest challenge in our ‘herbal’ journey has always been the preservation of the products’ lifespan,” says Arevik. From the point of harvesting to the point of transporting Arevik was struggling with preserving the quality of collected goods. The drying process being affected by the village’s humidity was followed by the packaging complications, as Arevik exports to the capital Yerevan.
After all, there is a solution to every problem as Arevik mentions. Being provided with a drying machine Arevik is not only managing to handle the proper timing of herbs’ drying process, but also expands her production by preparing dried fruits. Additionally, another machine, the vacuum, enables Arevik to export her production without compromising the quality.
“You have to think outside the box and truly challenge what you do. If not, your business will grow as slow as you do,” says Nane Sargsyan.
With the various fruits offered by the region Nane does something really simple, and at the same time undoubtedly unique. Nane produces dried fruit candy, which may sound simple, but in fact requires expertise and dedication, not forgetting about the needed machinery.
The last mentioned machinery has always been an integral part of Nane’s functioning as a producer. While collaborating with the implementing partner of the project, CARD Foundation, Nane has identified the need of a fruit drying machine. Being provided with one the production of Nane’s exceptional goods has rapidly grown.
Putting the forces of five local women farmers to a good use, Nane produces dried fruit candy from Armenian apples, apricots, figs and persimmons, with the addition of secret spices. Other than working with the local market players, such as “Aleppo” chain stores, and “Arcolad” chocolate factory, Nane exports to the United Arab Emirates, Russia, USA and European Union.
After the completion of the project Nane is confident in her independent farming career. Developing her own brand and working on the packaging are the top activities on Nane’s to-do list.
Ashot Kalashyan, previously an administrative worker values innovation in farming the most. In his monoculture orchards Ashot concentrates his efforts on the cultivation of fig, collection and dried fruits production.
Kalashyan has joined the big family of the project in 2014. Since then, Ashot has grown his farm nearly 10 times. As of now, Ashot has increased his production and cultivation volumes from 100 kg to 4 tons, along with the increase in provision of cold storage services from 800 kg to 1,600 tones.
Collaborating with 13 fellow farmers, Ashot initializes collection of fresh and dried fruits from the region, sorting, packaging and supplying to the local markets, as well as provision of cold storage services. Having generated 6-8 seasonal (women) and 2 permanent (males) jobs, Ashot manages the provision of raw materials for dried fruit candy production to companies such as Arcolad and Armchok. Supplementary to his local activities, Ashot exports his production to Russia.
“I am far from stopping at this point,” says Ashot with excitement. According to Ashot the next big step for him is to shift his entire production to the organic agriculture. Having developed his own drip irrigation, and strictly following every rule and regulation, Ashot is currently migrating his orchards to fully organic.