Visit the village of Odzoun in Armenia’s northern province of Lori and you’ll hear the locals point to the uncultivated fields as the main source of the community’s deep-seated poverty.
Rafik Hovasapyan, one of the village’s 5,600 residents, is a 76 year-old pensioner who says it’s impossible for him to feed his family on the 28,000 AMD ($69) pension he gets every month.
There are 110 families receiving state assistance in Odzoun, a rural community that has abundant fertile lands for farming. But only 150 hectares of the total 1,500 are currently being planted with grains.
Many say this is why the price of bread is so expensive. Mr. Hovasapyan says that 1 kilo now costs 500 AMD.
Mayor Arsen Titanyan boasts that every year since being elected to office in 2008 the acreage being cultivated has risen by 5%.
Mayor Titanyan adds that that repairs to an 800 meter irrigation pipe has allowed a 160 hectare pasture to have water after many years. The World Bank contributed $30,000 and the Odzoun municipality kicked in 600,000 AMD of its own. Two combines were also purchased.
To assist the villagers with their fall planting the mayor offered them diesel fuel and seed at reduced prices. Unfortunately 70-80% of residents don’t have the means to work the land even with the mayor’s help.
Alisa Gasparyan says what the village needs is jobs and not work linked to the land.
“I haven’t been able to cultivate the 4,000 meters of land I have for the past twenty years. It’s too expensive. I want to sell but there are no buyers.”
When we spoke top Mayor Titanyan, he mentioned several underlying reasons why so much land is not being cultivated. First off, there are some 1,000 residents who have left and their plots remain fallow. Other families, comprised mostly of seniors, aren’t physically or financially able to work the land. He also mentioned the fact that much of the fields are located 7-8 kilometres from the village.
In the mayor’s view, the government has to step in and draft a land reform package that would include seizing the lands of absentee owners, who haven’t been paying taxes, and turning over the land over to the community. He also believes that larger plots of land need to be distributed to make farming more cost effective. Mayor Titanyan said that large landowners could employ village residents to work their lands and transport them back and forth to the fields in buses.
In the near future, Odzoun will discuss the 2013-2017 socio-economic development plan and how it envisages dealing with the urgent issues facing the village.
Mayor Titanyan singles out the development of agriculture and repairs to the road leading to the school as top priorities.
We wanted to hear what Odzoun residents had to say about their most pressing problems.
Levon Asryan, an unemployed teacher who we stopped while he was transporting grass back from the field, said that more activities and events should be planned for the village cultural center.
Many other residents said that what was needed above all else were jobs.
“I’m a pensioner with health issues. I believe that what Odzoun needs first is jobs. My wife just passed away and I have a son and a daughter at home. They’re in their mid-20s and we have to make due on my small pension,” said Avag Kostandyan.