Khor Virab — ATG Wheat Flourishes on Ararat Plain

Khor Virab -- ATG Wheat Flourishes on Ararat Plain

July 14, 2004

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by Andranik Michaelian

Khor Virab, Province of Ararat, Armenia — In Armenian tradition, when the season to sow wheat arrived, the farmer would take a handful of seed, and, looking up at the sky, say the following words: “God of the heavens, this is for those who harvest in the sky.” Then he would scatter the seed. Taking another handful, he would say, “This is for the poor, and the weary traveler.” With the next handful he would say, “This is for the ants, the wild animals, for guests, and for our relatives.” Finally, the farmer would make the sign of the cross and toss a handful of seed as far as he could, saying, “This is for our household.” Only then did he begin sowing with both hands….

In Armenia today, as in the past, the growing of wheat is considered sacred, with the gathering of the harvest followed by a time of weddings, baptisms, and other festivities. It is said in Armenia that if bread is in abundance, peace will reign, and the people will live well.

ATG Wheat Project takes hold in Armenia

In 1994, due to war and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenia suffered from near-famine conditions. Many of its wheat and grain fields were planted with seed far removed from the Mother Seed, or laying fallow. Thanks to the efforts of the Fresno, California-based Armenian Technology Group (ATG), nearly 3,000 metric tons of wheat seed were distributed to farmers throughout Armenia, literally saving the country from famine. Seminars were organized to teach new methods in wheat farming, including seedbed preparation and the application of fertilizer and herbicide, and to inform farmers about new Western varieties of wheat and other grains.

Many of the varieties ATG offered have proved quite successful in Armenia’s fields. In the Ararat Valley, Stevens and W301 adapted well to the hot, arid climate. In Khor Virab village of this valley, located near the historically significant Khor Virab monastery, Virab Manukyan grows wheat as a program farmer for ATG. Manukyan first worked with ATG in 1999, after meeting Roger Culver (ATG’s in-country director until 2000) at a seminar in the town of Ararat.

Following Culver’s suggestion, Manukyan planted Stevens on his three-hectare plot at the foot of the monastery. “During the growing season, Mr. Culver came to my field several times to check the new crop,” Manukyan said. “We worked well together. A man you can trust.”

Even though part of the field was damaged by a spring hailstorm, Manukyan harvested nearly seven metric tons per hectare. “It was a great harvest,” he said. “Wheat farmers from Khor Virab were amazed. They all became interested in the varieties ATG was offering.”

After repaying ATG, Manukyan sold the remaining seed to farmers in Khor Virab and the neighboring village of Voskedap. Stevens quickly became the preferred variety by Khor Virab wheat farmers.

New agency boosts Khor Virab economy

Spurred by the success of the new varieties, Manukyan founded a small association of seed producers, with the purpose of producing high quality seed for sale. “The benefits to Khor Virab farmers have been tremendous,” he stated. “But, above all, area farmers now have better access to high quality first-generation seed. We are all grateful to ATG for providing the seed needed for this project.”

As one of ATG’s most trusted farmers, Manukyan has been chosen to participate as a grower in the Seed Producers’ Association (SPA), a government-certified organization founded in 1998. Under the program, ATG supplies elite seed to SPA, which in turn will produce high-quality first generation seed and guarantee participating farmers access to the seed. “As a member of SPA, I will be able to sell seed to farmers in my own association,” Manukyan said. “This will further ensure that farmers here have fresh, high quality seed.”

In fields west of Khor Virab, 300 hectares lie fallow due to a recent rise in the Araks River. “When these fields dry out, farmers will be able to plant wheat, the seed supplied by ATG,” Manukyan said.

This past autumn, Manukyan planted W301, another variety that has proved successful in the fields around Khor Virab. In May, the wheat was nearly two feet tall. “The spikes are already formed,” he said proudly. Driving through a narrow avenue in the wheat fields of Khor Virab, Manukyan pointed to a field of mixed varieties next to his field of W301. “This farmer planted wheat far removed from the Mother Seed,” Manukyan explained. “The harvest will be low. The flour mills don’t buy fields with more than one variety of wheat.”

On a small plot of land just beneath the Khor Virab monastery, Manukyan also planted a new variety of corn in an experimental project for ATG. A careful farmer, Manukyan was chosen by ATG to grow the corn and produce seed. “This variety of corn requires special care in planting and irrigation,” he said. “I am always happy to collaborate with ATG.”

Historic ties create strong bond

In 1914, a year before genocide nearly annihilated the Armenian population of Anatolia, Kurdish tribesmen friendly to the Manukyan family warned them of the danger that lay ahead, and assisted the Manukyans in their escape from their home in Moush. Traveling by way of Kars and Gyumri, the family settled in the region of Kyavar, near Lake Sevan. Farmers by trade, they were drawn to the fertile fields of Ararat, settling finally in the village of Khor Virab.

Virab Manukyan, whose father was born in Moush, farms wheat and barley on the same land his father cultivated. “I want to stay in Khor Virab,” he said. “My father left his father’s grave in Moush. How can I leave my father’s grave here in Khor Virab? The most important thing for me is to stay here, for my sons to stay here.”

Manukyan entered his wheat field at the base of the monastery, and walked towards a small patch of weeds. “I will pull these all by hand,” he said. “It is nothing to be ashamed of, don’t you think?”

“Where this field ends, I want to build a small hotel,” Manukyan went on. “With our new successes working with ATG, this will be possible. I think all farmers in Khor Virab will soon be planting seed provided by ATG.”

Manukyan smiled and looked around him. “My greatest joy is working in the shadow of Khor Virab and Mt. Ararat,” he said. “When I see Mt. Ararat in the morning, my day is complete.”

For more information about how you can help Armenia’s farmers, contact the ATG office at (559) 224-1000 or by e-mail ( 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.