Larisa Paremuzyan

Serzh Sargsyan – “We have to visit the villages”

Artvi Residents Just Don’t Believe President’s Pledge Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan said the following on March 12 regarding the problems facing the country’s agricultural sector. “Each one of us must periodically travel to the villages and get involved in remedying the agricultural problems. I myself will travel to the villages now and then and personally monitor various ongoing projects.” Serzhik Veranyan, a resident of the village Artvi in Armenia’s northern Lori Marz, told me he’s dubious that things will change for the better. “Nothing will change in the village. While I respect my government, I just don’t believe the words uttered by the president; that officials will visit the villages. In addition, it’s just not possible for President Sargsyan to go to a village and meet with common residents. At best, he’ll go to talk to the owners of large farms. When have you heard of the president or prime minister chewing the fat with us common folk? Nah, I don’t see it happening. Do you really believe President Sargsyan will come and ask me what I or my neighbors want?” Mr. Veranyan believes that Armenia’s agriculture will never develop due to the government’s neglect over the past twenty years. Nothing has been done to improve the infrastructure during the transition phase. Artvi residents say the government’s plan to allocate barley seed to needy farmers is too late in coming. They say the government should have informed villagers last fall. “While barley isn’t a fall planting, the government should have warned us in advance so that we could get the fields ready. The seed should have been planted with the snow cover. The government’s plan doesn’t make sense today,” added Mr. Veranyan. Rather, he says that the president needs to get involved in other issues to aid in developing the agriculture. Mr. Veranyan points to low-cost, long-term loans, land and livestock insurance and agricultural equipment as issues needing government intervention. “I used to be able to rent farm equipment when needed. Now I can’t. If the president could tackle these issues, our villages would be able to get back on their feet,” he says. Another village resident, Davit Kirakosyan, also complained about high interest rate loans. “It’s highway robbery. They should give long-term loans so that we can work the land. I own five hectares of land. The banks should give me a five year loan. They told me I could only get a one year loan at 24%. I can’t even harvest the crop and sell it in that short a time to pay off the interest. They’re choking me for payment.” Resident Telemak Aghvanyan, an agronomist by profession, believes the banks should only issue credit to smart villagers. “Let’s suppose the bank gives me a $50,000 loan. Can I ever pay it back? These villagers have to be able to manage their financial matters. If a person can’t get manage a business operation, then the government can pave all the roads in gold. It won’t make one iota of difference. The villager has to spend the loan wisely. Why should the government assist those who can’t manage their affairs? I got out of the army in 1999. Back then I just had one sheep to my name. Now I have a whole flock. I never got anything from the government. I made a point to increase my holdings every year, no matter how difficult it was.” Mr. Aghvanyan believes the government could do much more, in the way of assistance, by taking back lands from those who can’t make a go from farming. He suggests a pilot program in a village of the government’s choosing. “Let them come here to our village and give each of us, say, $1,000 as a non-returnable payment. Three years hence, let’s see if those people actually grew their businesses. If not, then the government should take the land back from all those who aren’t working their plots and hand it over to those that do.” His proposal sounds like tough medicine for Armenia’s ailing agricultural sector. I wonder if his neighbors in Artvi would ever agree to serve as guinea pigs.