A story of a farmer
UMCOR has implemented successful agricultural development programs in Armenia since 1997.
Starting from December 1999, UMCOR has supported the establishment of seven farmer associations through the Community Associations Program. This program evolved into UMCOR’s Farmers Organizations Support Program in Armenia (FOSPA) . Through FOSPA, UMCOR assisted 19 rural communities in Ararat, Armavir and Vayots Dzor Marzes with the establishment and development of agricultural cooperatives. During the initial phase, these farmer organizations (FO) received technical assistance from UMCOR on forming groups, conducting a community needs assessment, establishing and formally registering cooperatives, developing business plans and applying for loans. FOs also received UMCOR financial support in the form of grants (administrative, business support and agricultural equipment) and loans (interest-free and interest bearing). The cooperatives received loans for procuring agricultural inputs in bulk and providing agro-machinery services, allowing member-farmers to reduce their production costs and increase their incomes. FOs received multiple trainings and consultancies as well.
With funds from a variety of donors, UMCOR worked with rural communities countrywide. From 2004 to 2006, with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, UMCOR established three demonstration farms in one of Armenia’s poor marzes, Gegharkunik, and provided technical assistance and training to over 12,000 local farmers.
Strengthening the Role of Women in Agricultural Cooperatives (SRWAC) Project that UMCOR started in November 2007 was built on UMCOR Armenia’s experiences in assisting farming communities to establish and develop agricultural associations through FOSPA. Under the program, UMCOR extended assistance to support the further development and strengthening of existing FOs by identifying, training and empowering women involved in agriculture. The primary purpose of each established Women Committee (WC) was to strengthen the role of women in cooperatives and address community issues. As a result of the SRWAC project Women’s Committees were established at 10 communities. UMCOR also organized and executed trainings in areas such as how to conduct a needs assessment, proposal writing, democracy in rural communities, and success stories of other women working through cooperatives to create change locally. To highlight and stimulate the role of women, and to help cooperatives achieve social goals in the community, small grants were awarded to Women’s Committees to support their activities under the project. These included social, health and education needs and the recipients of assistance were extremely vulnerable families, elderly and vulnerable children.
Since 2009 UMCOR has been implementing Sustainable Cooperative Extension and Agricultural Development (SCEAD) program funded by USDA “Food for Progress” Program. The project supported member farmers and small-scale agricultural entrepreneurs to improve their livelihoods through development of their production management, pre-processing and marketing capacities and through technical assistance, training and demonstration projects. Within the scope of the project financial, marketing, technical and advisory assistance have been provided to 14 newly established consumer cooperatives, as well as to 10 existing agricultural cooperatives established by UMCOR in 2003-2006 within the scope of FOSPA. The program was implemented in Ararat, Armavir and Vayots Dzor regions. Through the SCEAD project, UMCOR collaborated with CARD, Agricultural Support Regional Centers of the target regions and other stakeholders.
The main outcomes of SCEAD program are -- 21 Cooperatives received agricultural equipment, such as tractors (Belarus 82-1, Belarus 921 or New Holland type) and other accessories; 3 new milk and dairy cooperatives received milk collection spots; 72 agriculture extension films completed and broadcasted in Ararat, Armavir and Vayots Dzor marzes; 5,000 handbooks published and distributed to farmers; 28 demonstration projects implemented in high value agriculture, post-harvest pre-processing, and marketing; 3,600 individual rural community members adopted improved agricultural practices.
The knowledge and skills gained by the beneficiaries through trainings and the results of the program witnessed through demonstrations will motivate the adoption of improved farming techniques and new technologies. Through the utilization of the agro machinery equipment/accessories and increase in post-harvest pre-processing and marketing capacities, farmers are now able to improve yield, enhance product quality, and increase sales of their products, which will result in improved quality of life for the farmers and their families.
Farmers from 14 new and 10 existing cooperatives received technical assistance trainings in cooperative development, management, conducting needs assessment, business plan development, financial management, accounting, taxation, plant protection, farm management, environment and land protection, water resource management, organic agriculture and livestock husbandry and veterinary. Short term impacts include achieving integration of small farmers into producer organizations and empowering individual farmers through a commonly owned enterprise. This leads to the increase of bargaining power for the cooperatives. Individual farmers adopt the use of modern fertilizers and modern agro-technologies through which they gain improved production quality. Moreover, with the application of improved plant protection knowledge and skills, farmers will increase production yields and, therefore, household incomes.
Samvel, a farmer in the village of Getap, Armenia, was desperate. He had inherited from his father a plot of land near his house, where he and his family planted different types of fruit trees, mainly apricots. But over time, his agricultural equipment had become outdated, and he couldn’t afford to rent or acquire new machinery. He started to think about selling his land.
Then one day, he saw a notice posted on a wall at the local municipal office. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) was inviting the community to learn about its Sustainable Cooperative Extension and Agricultural Development Program. Through the program, which was funded by the US Department of Agriculture, UMCOR worked in 24 rural communities, establishing and strengthening agricultural cooperatives by mobilizing the communities and providing the co-ops with agricultural equipment and technical assistance.
Samvel decided to attend the introductory meeting. There, UMCOR staff spoke about the goals and principles of agricultural cooperatives. Samvel listened, but initially felt skeptical. He could think only of the cooperatives, or Kolkhoz (“collective farms”), that existed in Armenia during the Soviet era, which did not interest him. But his situation was such that he decided to take a chance. He would break the stereotypes he held and become a member of the UMCOR-supported cooperative in his village. And he hoped that by doing so, he would change his life.
Getap Agricultural Cooperative was established on November 12, 2009, with 29 member farmers. UMCOR supported the startup activities of the co-op, providing it with a small grant to cover the first six months of administrative expenses, including state registration, stamp acquisition expenses, and other administrative costs. Within the scope of UMCOR’s program, Getap Cooperative also received agro-machinery, including a tractor, a mounted mower, a pickup baler, and other tools. UMCOR organized trainings on cooperative management, production, harvest pre-processing, and marketing for the co-op members and also gave them the opportunity to watch training films produced by UMCOR’s Mobile Extension Team.
Samvel benefited not only from participating in all the activities organized for cooperative members but, also, from the agricultural services that were provided to member farmers at a reduced price. Now Samvel is able to work his land using the knowledge and skills he gained from the trainings. He also has access to cooperative services and modern agricultural equipment, and is able to successfully market the products he grows.
Getap Agricultural Cooperative now has 58 member farmers, each with their own success stories that inspire the whole community.