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Sale of surplus U.S. wheat benefits Armenian farmers


 

September 17, 2002

(The Fresno Bee)

By Michael Doyle

Armenian farmers and a nonprofit San Joaquin valley company can both savor a newly signed Agriculture Department wheat deal.

Put together with some political help, the multisided deal gives surplus wheat bought by the federal government to the Fresno-based Armenian Technology Group.

By selling the wheat, the organization will raised money for its seed programs in Armenia.

"The farmers in Armenia now know about U.S. seed," Varoujan Der Simonian, executive directory of the Armenian Technology Group, said Monday. "It's just like hotcakes."

The new $1.8 million deal, signed under the long-running Food for Progress program, is the largest of its kind for the Armenian Technology Group.

The company will get 15,000 metric tons of U.S. wheat under the agreement formally approved at Agriculture Department headquarters last week.

This is twice as much wheat as Der Simonian's organization last received under the program, two years ago.

It won't stay in the company's hands long, however. Instead, the wheat will be shipped to Armenia for auction, with the estimated $1.6 million raised to be devoted for continuing seed-improvement projects.

An additional $214,000 Agriculture Department grant will help the Armenian Technology Group administer the effort to improve Armenia's seed supply.

"There's really a shortage of good seed in the country, and the industry has collapsed," Der Simonian said.

Operating in Armenia since 1989, the Armenian Technology Group has been trying to test and distribute the wheat and alfalfa seed varieties best suited to the country, which is roughly the size of Maryland.

There's a big appetite: Armenia produces only about 20% of the 800,000 metric tons of wheat needed annually; international donations help kick in some of the rest.

Using money spun off from the new wheat sale, the "seed multiple program" will include:

  • Training seminars for Armenian farmers.
  • Seed processing and marketing.
  • Loans and grants of both seed and equipment.
It's work that has won the Armenian Technology Group some well-placed friends.

"I believe ATG is one of the most effective organizations I have ever seen operate in Armenia," Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, advised Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman in a letter late last year.

Radanovich was writing in another effort to boost the Fresno company's shot at continued federal aid; as he advised Veneman, he was writing "once again" on the company's behalf.

In recent years, at least $5 million worth of federal grants has helped the Armenian Technology Group, though the group has not always secured the line-item assistance it as sought in annual federal spending bills.

"Without the [Agriculture Department's] financial support, there's no way to make the program work," Der Simonian said.

The Agriculture Department support comes via the $1.3 billion-a-year program call Food for Progress.

For more information about how you can help Armenia's farmers, contact the ATG office at (559) 224-1000 or by e-mail (info@atgusa.org). Tax-deductible donations can be sent to ATG; 1300 E. Shaw, Suite 149; P.O.Box 5969; Fresno, CA 93755-5969.
You may also donate to ATG online.