Akhouryan — ATG Projects Assist Village Recovery

Akhouryan -- ATG Projects Assist Village Recovery

July 20, 2004

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by Andranik Michaelian

Akhourian, Province of Shirak, Armenia — On December 8, 1988, wheat farmer and mechanic Tomik Hakobyan was in his flat in a tall apartment building in Gyumri, getting ready to leave for work at his mechanic shop in the neighboring village of Akhourian. Then, just before noon, tragedy struck Gyumri and the entire north of Armenia: an earthquake struck, measuring at least 6.9 on the Richter scale and causing death and destruction that would draw an outpouring of concern from around the world. As the apartment building collapsed around him, Hakobyan scrambled out of the rubble, barely escaping with his life. “It was a miracle,” he said. “I could have easily died with the others. It was horrible.”

Since 1960, Hakobyan had been the owner and operator of a large machine shop in Akhourian. “It was the largest shop in the region,” he said. “In one minute, everything was destroyed. We had to rebuild everything from the ground up.”

With Gyumri in ruins, Hakobyan built a temporary house, known in Armenia as a “tnak,” on the machine shop property in Akhourian. Along with his wife, two sons, and several relatives, Hakobyan rebuilt his shop and constructed a large warehouse to store wheat and farm machinery. He also continued his work as a local representative of Agro Service, an agency that advises farmers across Armenia. “We worked day and night,” Hakobyan said. “We did everything we could to reestablish our business and livelihood.”

ATG Wheat Project reaches Akhourian farmers

In the mid-1990s, as Armenia agriculture suffered from the break-up of the Soviet Union and the aftermath of the earthquake that had rocked northern Armenia, the Armenian Technology Group (ATG), an organization dedicated to strengthening Armenia’s agricultural economy, initiated several programs in the fields and farms of Armenia, including the area surrounding Gyumri. In Akhourian, ATG agronomists collaborated with local farmers, experimenting with new, improved wheat varieties suitable to the region’s climate and soil. “Several varieties, including Weston, W301, and Eltan proved highly successful in Akhourian,” Hakobyan stated.

In 1996, ATG received a large shipment of fertilizer, intended for wheat and grain farmers throughout Armenia. Gagik Mkrtchyan, an ATG agronomist who had worked with Hakobyan in Agro Service, asked him to assist in the distribution of the fertilizer. “The fertilizer needed to be bagged and sent to farmers all over Armenia,” Mkrtchyan said. “Hakobyan completed the work in a very efficient and timely manner.”

ATG expanded its involvement in Akhourian that same year, beginning operation of a storehouse for cleaning, treating, and storing wheat seed to distribute to farmers. They chose Hakobyan’s warehouse as the new storage site. “I happily accepted the responsibilities as director of the shed,” he said. Hakobyan’s duties included ensuring the proper cleaning and treating of seed. “We used an SM4 machine to clean the seed,” he said. Hakobyan also pointed out that ATG provided a special vacuum cleaner used to clean the machine, needed to keep the varieties from becoming mixed.

The Akhourian shed quickly became the focal point for ATG’s wheat seed distribution program in northern Armenia. Hakobyan worked alongside his wife, a trained agronomist, in completing the cleaning, treating, and distribution process at the shed. “Once,” Hakobyan said, “we received a 7,820-kilogram shipment of newly harvested alfalfa. It was damp and mixed with weeds. Roger Culver, ATG’s in-country director at the time, was in the area, visiting farmers. When he found out about the shipment, he came to the shed, helped me repair the cleaning machine, and worked with us well into the night to clean the alfalfa. I had never seen anything like it. And, the alfalfa turned out so clean, we used the seed for five years.”

New wheat varieties boost production

Besides his responsibilities running the storage shed, Hakobyan grows wheat as a program farmer for ATG, receiving seed and repaying ATG after harvest. This year, Hakobyan planted 10 hectares of Weston and Bezostaya, the seed provided by ATG. “The wheat looks excellent,” Hakobyan said enthusiastically. “Without hail, the harvest should reach eight metric tons per hectare. Before planting ATG varieties, harvests ranged from four to five metric tons.”

Hakobyan believes that timing in the application of fertilizer makes an important difference in the success of the harvest. “I applied 100 kilograms per hectare in the fall, and 200 kilograms in the spring when the wheat plants were about two inches high,” he explained. “The spring application gives a boost to the health of the plant.”

Hakobyan’s large harvests are well known in the Akhourian region. “Area farmers appreciate the new, improved varieties ATG provides to farmers here,” Hakobyan said. “Several, including Dadash, consistently produce high yields.”

Similar success has been achieved with barley, where impressive yields have been produced using Apollo and Steptoya, varieties also provided by ATG.

To prevent the mixing of varieties, Hakobyan rotates his fields every year. “This also helps replenish the soil, by planting other crops, such as alfalfa and tomatoes.” Last year, Hakobyan rented land where potatoes had been grown the previous year. “The stand is good,” he said.

To harvest, Hakobyan uses a Finnish-made combine he purchased in 1999. After finishing each field, the combine is carefully cleaned to help ensure the varieties remain separate. “I bought the combine with money I earned working with ATG. They helped us get our feet back on the ground.”

Hard work, struggle bond family

Looking across his plot of Weston wheat, Hakobyan talked about the approaching harvest. “The spikes have good color,” he said. “There is no sign of smut (known in Armenia as “mrrik”), even though we had a wet spring in Shirak.”

“When I enter a wheat field,” he continued, ” I feel at ease. For me, cultivating wheat is everything. It is a way of life. With wheat, one will never be hungry.”

At harvest time, Hakobyan’s sons operate the combine and SM4 cleaning machine. Both are mechanics. “Together, in difficult times, we rebuilt the machine shop and storage shed. Now, when I see them in the field during harvest, it gives me joy,” he said.

As the agricultural economy improves in Akhourian and in Shirak, Hakobyan sees ATG’s role as growing in importance. “After the earthquake, when our homes and economy were in ruin, ATG gave farmers hope by providing good wheat seed and information about new techniques in wheat farming. With the need to keep current on the use of new varieties suitable to our region, our relationship with ATG is even more vital.”

Like his friends and neighbors in Akhourian, Hakobyan has lived through difficult times that are hard to imagine; now, with the results of his successful collaboration with the Armenian Technology Group, he says, “I am very happy with ATG… and I think they are impossible to forget. Proudly surveying happy with me.”

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.