Never have I been so warmly welcomed than in Armenia. The country is rife with historical and cultural richness, people are kind and hard-working, I will undoubtedly return to continue exploring in my own time. My sincere and heartfelt thanks to the ENPARD (European Neighborhood Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development) team, the banter with Sergey-jan and Louiza on the winding mountain roads, or around Lake Servan, was memorable.
The long drives to various regions passed quickly as I was immersed in the best kind of conversations, those that challenge your worldview. In this instance we were discussing post-Soviet developments in Armenia, and the surprisingly stark negative contrast under current neoliberal policies. Armenia had been one of the wealthier Soviet satellites and suffered less from Stalinism than the motherland. Armenians were responsible for budget allocation — upon approval from Moscow — healthcare and education were free for all citizens, living standards were moderated as industries were under government control. Presently those industries have been monopolised and wealth has been concentrated to a small elite, prices of almost every commodity have exponentially increased at the expense of a population who’s purchasing power has diminished. Countless factories have shut down in the wake of a rural exodus, with wealth opportunities being centralised in the capital, which has left the country highly dependent on imports. In short, agriculture and rural communities have suffered. Little known fact about Armenia, the minimum altitude point is 390m above sea level and in many regions the land is too difficult to farm, prone to early frost, or too rocky.
This is where the UNDP team comes in. ENPARD has been supporting agricultural development in rural Armenia by investing in and supporting local farmers cooperatives with the potential to produce high value crops and impact the region. They operate in every region of the country from Yerevan to accelerate innovation, distribution and cooperation throughout Armenia as a whole. The team has also introduced buckwheat as a solution to the increase in fallow fields, as it is a speedy short-season cover crop which blossoms and reaches maturity in just 70 to 90 days. Buckwheat also suppresses weeds and attracts beneficial insects and pollinators with its abundant blossoms, it is a healthy crop which will contribute greatly in the struggle against food insecurity.
They’ve been doing incredible work, impacting hundreds of lives throughout the country and halting migrations, as people have renewed hope for development and a dependable future. I’m grateful to have met such a wonderful team and the communities they impact.
The VR film – Sustainable Realities VR – was produced for internal use with UNDP.