SPSA — ATG Seed Program Makes Major Strides

SPSA -- ATG Seed Program Makes Major Strides

January 7, 2005

by Andranik Michaelian

Aygebar, Province of Tavoush, Armenia — In a major step toward ATG’s goal of providing high quality wheat seed to farmers in remote areas of Armenia, agronomists working for the Seed Producers’ Support Association (SPSA) organized deliveries to those critical regions during the fall of 2004. Led by Gagik Mkrtchyan, long-time agronomist for the California-based Armenian Technology Group (ATG), SPSA has become the focus of ATG’s efforts to implement its program of ensuring the independence of Armenia’s wheat farmers, thus guaranteeing the security of the country’s food supply.

ATG founded the Seed Producers’ Support Association in 1998. It received special impetus this year, when its efforts were coordinated with ATG’s Yerevan office (ATG Foundation) and wheat farmers to provide Elite seed produced in ATGF fields to SPSA farmers, who in turn provide the resulting first-generation seed to growers throughout Armenia. To ensure the best farmers were chosen to participate in the organization’s activities, Mkrtchyan and SPSA director of operations Armen Asatryan teamed with agronomist Vaghinak Kamrastyan to check over 1,000 hectares of wheat in regions across Armenia, choosing farmers with the best fields and an established history of producing high quality seed.

In Shamshadin, a border region in Tavoush, 10 metric tons of first-generation Bezostaya 1 seed were delivered to the village of Aygebar on October 14, a result of the coordinated efforts of Mkrtchyan and Garnik Petrosyan, who is head of the Crop Production and Plant Cultivation division of the Armenian Ministry of Agriculture.

According to Petrosyan, the situation had become so bad in Shamshadin that many farmers had stopped sowing wheat, and were often even abandoning their land. “Due to the bad roads in Shamshadin and the distance from major wheat producing regions, good seed was difficult to bring and too expensive for farmers to plant,” he explained. “The new delivery of wheat seed is very important to saving agriculture in Shamshadin.”

On the day of the delivery to Aygebar, farmers from several villages, including Paravakar, Movses, Karmrakar, Ardzvabert, and Albelu, arrived in cars, jeeps, and even on donkeys to obtain the seed. “The truck came all the way from Artik, through mountain passes and village roads to reach Aygebar,” Mkrtchyan said. “We arranged purchase of the seed from ATG-SPSA grower Hunan Petrosyan of Meghrashen, near Artik. This project is helping everybody.”

In Aygebar, farmers gathered in a courtyard near the home of Andranik Hovagimyan, who farms wheat in this border village of 700, to obtain the new seed. “Hovagimyan is a good, experienced farmer, and respected in Shamshadin,” Mkrtchyan said. “Someone we know we can work with.” Impressed with the first delivery, growers ordered another 10 tons for the autumn sowing. “Besides ‘Bezostaya 1’, the variety now being planted in Shamshadin, farmers are interested in planting varieties new to the area,” Mkrtchyan continued. “In Aygebar, we are experimenting with 22 varieties of wheat, to see which grow better in the unique climate here.”

The experimental plot on the edge of land farmed by Hovagimyan will be checked carefully to determine the varieties best suited for the region. Hovagimyan also pointed out that they had planted five varieties of wheat on a 3,000-square-meter plot to better study their adaptability to local soil conditions. The varieties included ‘Findley’, ‘Stevens’, ‘SN64’, and ‘Dadash’.

In Hovagimyan’s home, on a wall that faces the border with Azerbaijan, a window damaged by tank fire is still unrepaired, serving as a reminder of the recent war in Mountainous Karabagh. “This region is important to our security — for the people of Shamshadin, and all of Armenia,” Hovagimyan said. “We are happy that the Armenian government, and our friends at ATG, are working with us, helping rebuild our farms and land. Now, our farmers have returned to their land, and have hope for the future.”

Project reaches Kotayk villages, northern border regions

During the summer of 2004, ATG-SPSA agronomists sent notices to provincial centers throughout the country to ascertain the needs of wheat growers and to find out which varieties were desired in each area. The response was outstanding, especially in regions where farmers cultivated small plots of land, and where the purchase of high quality seed has been difficult, if not impossible. In Arzakan, a village in Kotayk, ATG-SPSA agronomists worked with wheat farmer Paruyr Khachatryan to arrange a shipment of 10 metric tons of first-generation seed for the autumn planting.

Khachatryan, who is also assistant to the village mayor, credits ATG for improving the conditions of area wheat farmers. “Ten years ago, in 1994, ATG’s Wheat Project literally saved us from famine,” he said. “We had no seed, and our land lay fallow. Now, 10 years later, this shipment of good, first-generation seed is giving our farmers the boost they needed. As small farmers, it was difficult finding the means to purchase high quality seed. Our collaboration with ATG-SPSA agronomists has made this possible.”

As the shipment of seed arrived, farmers from Arzakan and several neighboring villages, including Alapars, gathered at the town hall courtyard to meet with ATG-SPSA agronomists and receive their product. Armen Asatryan, who helped arrange the delivery of ‘Bezostaya 1’ seed to Arzakan, explained the benefits area farmers will receive: “Until now, the farmers of Arzakan have had a difficult time selling their wheat seed after harvest. In the future, ATG-SPSA can work to ensure their product reaches the right buyers.” Twenty-two farmers in the village purchased seed from the shipment arranged by ATG-SPSA. Said Asatryan, “This will help 22 families have a good income, which will in turn strengthen the economy for the entire village.”

Emphasis on new varieties, trial plots

Also during the autumn of 2004, experimental plots were sown in 18 regions across Armenia in an effort to determine which wheat varieties were suited to local climates and soil conditions. In Tashir, a region north of Stepanavan in the province of Lori, ATG-SPSA farmer Volodia Paroyan planted 24 varieties in the middle of his field of ‘Bezostaya 1’. “This plot is ideal,” explained Vaghinak Kamrastyan, who participated in the planting. “This way, in a natural setting, it will be clear which varieties are more successful, and which ones we will offer to our growers in the future.”

Similar plots were sown in the province of Gegharkounik, in the towns of Vardenis and Martuni. In Martuni, Derenik Sargsyan planted 23 varieties on a 24-square-meter plot. “Here, in Martuni, the cold winters and winds from Lake Sevan dictate the kind of varieties we plant,” he said. “We appreciate the work and research ATG-SPSA agronomists are doing in this field.” On September 10, farmers in Martuni received a 10-metric-ton shipment of ‘Dadash’ from ATG-SPSA growers in Sisian. “Now, 60 farmers have excellent first-generation seed, which will help our work here tremendously.”

ATG-SPSA network links wheat-producing regions By building trust among wheat growers across Armenia, ATG-SPSA agronomists have created a system connecting the best growers with regional representatives, who in turn act as liaisons in finding a market for their product. “By working with local representatives, we can reach all farmers,” explained Mkrtchyan. “For example, in Martuni, we worked with small and large farmers alike — orders ranged from 20 to 300 kilograms. We even made a special delivery of 100 kilograms of ‘Stevens’ wheat to a farmer in Alaverdi. That seed was grown by an ATG-SPSA grower from Echmiadzin.”

In 2004, ATG-SPSA agronomists worked diligently with growers, area agronomists, and government officials to make ATG’s goal of strengthening of the economy of rural Armenia a reality. By receiving the best varieties of high quality wheat seed, farmers are now able to sow their fields, even in outlying border regions, thus ensuring the livelihood of their families and the future of the Armenian nation.

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.