Thursday, 19 October

Potato Harvest in Dzovak: Odds Stacked Against Small Scale Farmers


The potato harvest is in full-swing in Dzovak, a village in Armenia’s Gegharkounik Province.

Smoke can be seen rising from almost every house in the village, and the clanging of farm implements is heard.

Eight-year-old Manvel gathers a mound of dung in the yard of his house. He’s preparing a small fire to roast some potatoes. They’re delicious, he boasts.

Nadya, the boy’s grandma, and mother Hermineh, are working in a nearby field, digging out the potatoes and sorting them in pails.

Men and women work side by side come harvest time. Given that 200 men from the village are now working abroad, the women have stepped in to do the heavy physical labor.

Nadya screams every time she lifts a pail full of potatoes. She’s struggling, but doesn’t complain.

“I’m doing it for my family,” she says, wrapping her headscarf a bit more tightly.

The women refused to talk at length with me, arguing it wasn’t “proper”. Later, looking around, I realized that only the children remained. The women had silently slipped away.

Routik Hovhannisyan and his wife were digging up potatoes in a nearby field.

He complained about this year’s small crop. “Both the soil and people are spent,” Routik laughs.

Working his 1,300-square meter field, Routik says that quality potatoes are fetching only 80 drams a kilogram. “There’s no profit to be made at that price. At 100 drams, we at least cover our costs.”

Routik claims that farmers are at the bottom of the totem pole in Armenia when it comes to being appreciated, adding that they always face the challenge of not being able to sell their crops.

“I have no vehicle to take the crop to market. If buyers don’t come here, the potatoes will sit and rot,” he says.

Routik says that the quality of seeds now marketed has gone done, producing spotty crops. Quality seeds can fetch 400-500 AMD per kilo, while the crop itself is sold at only 80 AMD.

Dzovak villagers work small plots of land that are economically inefficient. But no one wants to discuss the option of collectivization. Municipality staffers told Hetq that of the village’s population of 3,000, some 2,000 work the land, and this makes collective-based farming impossible.

Village Mayor Garik Hakobyan told Hetq that a month ago, the agricultural minister toured the region and promised to resolve the issue of selling the potato crop.

“We proposed that residents be allowed to deepen trade with neighboring Georgia. Fifteen years ago, when that trade was at its height, the potato crop fetched a decent price. The minister said he’d follow-up,” Hakobyan says.


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