Harvest Festival in Ararat and Vayots Dzor Marzes
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.
"Time and money spent in helping people to do more for themselves is far better than mere giving."
Since 2009, UMCOR has been implementing the Sustainable Cooperative Extension and Agricultural Development (SCEAD) Program funded by the USDA “Food for Progress” Program in Armenia. The project supports member farmers and small-scale agricultural entrepreneurs to improve their livelihood through the 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 the Farmers Organizations Support Program. The SCEAD program is implemented in Ararat, Armavir and Vayots Dzor regions of Armenia. In the framework of the SCEAD program, UMCOR collaborated with the Center of Agribusiness and Rural Development.
UMCOR supported newly established cooperatives with legal registration, office space acquisition and provided trainings based on the needs of each community. Trainings on accounting, cooperative management and business plan development, plant protection and other topics has been organized for the cooperative members.
UMCOR provided the SCEAD program’s 21 beneficiary consumer cooperatives from Armavir, Ararat and Vayots Dzor regions with “Belarus 921”, “Belarus 82-1” and “New Holland TD85 F ROPS” wheel tractors, which will help member and non-member farmers with the implementation of agricultural activities and will promote sustainable cooperative extension. To create a base for cooperative growth, UMCOR also provided the cooperatives with agricultural accessories. The types of agricultural machineries and accessories were chosen based on a needs assessment conducted in each cooperative.
Twenty-seven films have been made and broadcasted to-date on the following topics: agricultural products’ processing, maintenance, as well as films on actual and urgent problems of agriculture. The films are very important for the farmers and are highly appreciated by them. UMCOR closely cooperates with the Regional Support Centers of Armavir, Ararat and Vayots Dzor marzes for the purpose of providing the films’ topics selection, making process and the beneficiaries’ contacts information.
UMCOR presents cooperatives’ achievements by encouraging their participation in different types of exhibitions. Every year in Armenia, the traditional Harvest Festival is celebrated where communities showcase and sell their produce of the year.
On October 15, 2011 fourteen of UMCOR’s beneficiary cooperatives participated in the Harvest Festival simultaneously conducted in Ararat and Vayots Dzor marzes. It was a great opportunity for them to represent themselves and display their products, activities and innovations to the general public, as direct outcomes of a year’s hard work. Within the framework of the SCEAD Program, the cooperatives were provided with new kinds of seeds from Europe and the U.S. and the products grown from these seeds were presented during the event.
The exhibition pavilions belonging to each of the SCEAD Program beneficiaries were stunning. In Vayots Dzor, the cooperatives also brought all the machinery they received through the project. Guests of the festival were fascinated with the decorated tractors and tables in front of each tractor that were showing that community’s harvests. Members of the cooperatives were highly motivated by the interest of other community farmers in their cooperative structure, activities and achievements. One of the best results of their festival showcase was that the Republic of Armenia (RA) President, RA National Assembly Speaker, RA Minister of Agriculture, government officials, and guests from CIS countries and abroad got familiarized with their activities and achievements and even tasted their end products.
The participation of UMCOR’s SCEAD Program cooperatives in the Harvest Festival was a great opportunity for raising the awareness of other farmers and the general public on USDA support to agriculture in Armenia, UMCOR’s development programs in rural areas, and overall activities being implemented by agricultural cooperatives. This type of exposure increases the number of farmers joining cooperatives and widens the scope of services provided by those entities, which supports the continuing development of cooperatives in Armenia.