Sisaved -- Wheat Fields Given New Life in Amasia Villages
August 4, 2004
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Sisaved, Province of Shirak, Armenia — North of Gyumri, in the hilly, rugged fields surrounding the village of Sisaved, Serzhe Kotanjyan grows wheat, barley, and potatoes on the land he and his ancestors have farmed for the past 200 years. Kotanjyan has vivid memories that add meaning to his work today. “As a child,” he says, “I walked behind the ox-drawn cart, as older members of the family picked up rocks, clearing the field for the year’s planting. My grandparents farmed here, and my grandparents’ grandparents farmed here. I feel very close to this land.”
During Soviet rule, farmers in the Amasia region, which includes the villages of Sisaved, Voghchi, and Haykavan, were known to produce some of the highest quality wheat in Armenia. Then, with the break-up of the Soviet Union and the resulting loss of traditional markets and supplies of fresh seed, harvests plummeted and wheat-killing diseases ran rampant. “The only variety available in all of Armenia was ‘Bezostaya’, and good, first-generation seed was nowhere to be found,” Kotanjyan remembers.
In 1992, agronomists and farming professionals from the Armenian Technology Group (ATG), an organization dedicated to realizing the self-sufficiency the farmers in Armenia, began experimenting with new, improved varieties of wheat and other grains throughout the country. Several of the varieties proved successful in the harsh climate of Amasia, where winters can last up to seven months of the year. In 1994 Kotanjyan met with ATG agronomist Gagik Mkrtchyan, who suggested planting four varieties especially suited to the climate, including ‘Weston’ and ‘W301’. “From the beginning,” Kotanjyan says, “yields were excellent.”
A productive relationship takes hold
Kotanjyan began his association with ATG as a program farmer. This entitled him to receive seed and then repay ATG after harvest. “During the growing season,” he recalls, “agronomists from ATG’s Yerevan office came here often, to give advice and make sure the crops were being grown properly. They did this all as part of their wheat seed program. ATG immediately gained the respect of Amasia farmers.”
From harvests which had fallen to less than two metric tons per hectare, Kotanjyan harvested 3.5 metric tons his first year working with ATG. He says a harvest that high, on the high mountain fields of Sisaved, is “amazing.”
Kotanjyan’s successful collaboration with ATG continued, with the planting of wheat and barley on his fields in Sisaved and nearby Voghchi. He had good results with ‘Steptoya’ barley, but says, “wheat is what I love to grow.” In 1996, Kotanjyan planted ‘SN64’ and ‘Promontory’ on his 15-hectare plot in Akhourian, a village near Gyumri, harvesting nearly 5 metric tons per hectare. “This is an excellent yield for Akhourian. I am completely satisfied with the new varieties ATG is offering.”
In Voghchi, preparations are being made for a fall planting of ‘Promontory’ and ‘Bezostaya’, both varieties provided by ATG. In addition to achieving good results with ‘Promontory’, Kotanjyan says ‘Bezostaya’ is well adapted to Voghchi’s climate and soil, and notes its ability to thrive in both irrigated and rain-fed fields. To help ensure proper seeding rates and ease of irrigation, he is using a land leveler built by ATG in Kyavar, near Lake Sevan. “I make sure to have the land leveled every year,” he says. “Without proper seedbed preparation, a good harvest is hard to come by.”
As an ATG program farmer, Kotanjyan also plants elite and first-generation seed, to produce high-quality seed that is then sold to farmers throughout Armenia. Regarded as a responsible farmer, Kotanjyan always pays his debts on time, and stresses the importance of having open, honest relationships when doing business with others. Once, in the late 1990s, Kotanjyan lost two consecutive crops on his Sisaved and Voghchi fields due to hail, and applied to ATG to delay the repayment of his debt. “Without any hesitation, they agreed. They helped me through a very difficult time.”
Seed association boosts area production
In 1998, in a program initiated by ATG, wheat farmers from regions throughout Armenia established the government-certified Seed Producers Association (SPA), with the purpose of ensuring steady supplies of high-quality wheat seed to farmers and, in turn, helping flour mills obtain wheat in sufficient quantities needed for the production of bread. According to Armen Asatryan, who coordinates the efforts of SPA members and grain growers, choosing the best farmers is vital to the success of SPA. “Only farmers with a history of producing high-quality seed are chosen as SPA members,” Asatryan said. “Serzhe Kotanjyan, one of the first growers associated with SPA, is known in Amasia as a progressive farmer who always produces good seed. He is someone we can count on.”
In Amasia, and in neighboring Akhourian, Kotanjyan keeps his different plots in rotation to make sure land is always available for wheat, thus helping maintain needed production levels for SPA. He says he never plants wheat more than two seasons on the same land without rotating with alfalfa, potatoes, or gorungan, a kind of animal feed. This practice replenishes the soil with the proper nutrients, and keeps varieties from becoming mixed.
To enhance further the economic stability of grain farmers in Armenia, credit unions are now being formed, where SPA members will be able to borrow money during the planting season to ensure proper sowing and the timely application of fertilizer and herbicides. Working in close cooperation with ATG, the credit unions hold a distinct advantage over other financial institutions, due to the like-minded purpose of the members. Kotanjyan understands well the multiple benefits of such an approach: “If a farmer loses his crop to hail — a serious problem here in Amasia, and in all of Shirak — he will be able to fall back on the credit union for assistance.”
Projects bolster border economy
Here in his 1,900-meter-high fields in Sisaved, Serzhe Kotanjyan is preparing to harvest a crop of spring wheat. After harvest, he will sow ‘SN64’, a variety that does well in rain-fed regions like Amasia. “At times, after harvesting a field of spring wheat, I plant winter wheat on the same land,” he explains. “But I never plant wheat on the same land more than two consecutive growing seasons. And I never plant freshly harvested seed. Six months is needed before sowing new seed.”
This summer, Kotanjyan’s son and two daughters, all university students, are spending their summer working in his Sisaved and Voghchi wheat and potato fields, as their father did during his youth. According to Kotanjyan, there are 1,800 hectares of land around Sisaved, and only 50 households. “Here,” he says, “everybody works. It gives me great joy and satisfaction to see my children working in my fields.”
He pauses, and looks out over the ripening wheat. “In Sisaved,” he continues, “my land runs all the way to the border with Turkey. The roads there aren’t good. I appreciate what ATG has done for us here in Sisaved, and in all of Amasia. I am completely satisfied with ATG.”
For more information about how you can help Armenia’s farmers, contact the ATG office at (559) 224-1000 or by e-mail (email@example.com). Tax-deductible donations can be sent to ATG; 1300 E. Shaw, Suite 149; P.O.Box 5969; Fresno, CA 93755-5969.
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