What motivates a 69 and a 70 year old grandparent to be on the roads in Armenia passed midnight? What really motivates these fine gentlemen who are ready for retirement, but, like us, are volunteering their time and services?
I asked these questions to myself and shared them with my ATG colleagues of over 25 years, our country director Gagik Mkrchyan and chief agronomist Mekhitar Grigoryan, while the three of us were returning to Yerevan from Tavush region after one of our wheat seed field evaluation trips.
We were driving on the main narrow and dangerous one-lane highway, where road marks are almost nonexistent. Particularly at night, the shoulder lines, and the dividing lines were not visible at all.
The heavy cargo trucks dominating the center of the roads were a safety hazard. Gagik, a diabetic, was having a hard time to avoid the headlights from the incoming traffic, which was literally making driving almost impossible. I felt uncomfortable every time our small, aging vehicle shifted to the very edge of the road, where nothing could be seen! Like a back seat driver, my hands instantly would reach out to the staring-wheel in an attempt to re-direct the vehicle.
I couldn’t help myself to recall an incident that took place some 22 years ago, in 1997 when then board members Dr. Art Hazarabedian, Dr. Leon Garoyan, George Lelegian and I arrived near Sos village, in Martuni region of Artsakh with an old decaying Van made of Soviet Era. A senior government officer remarked “Why don’t you commute with a jeep (as they refer to the SUVs)? You are American and need to show prosperity and success, so our villagers desire to have the same?! To which Dr. Hazarabedian replied: “we are here to help improve the living conditions of the people; not for our own comfort.”
Gagik and Mekhitar have seen it all; the collapse of the system, the changing guards, dealing with at least 12 Ministers of Agriculture, (when there was such a department), and the ever-changing staff, who generally lack the appreciation of having a seed bank reserve for securing the country’s food supply. There is a lack of understanding of the applied science methodology of high quality seed propagation for each of the seven growing zones in Armenia. It has become more difficult to recruit younger people into the farming industry; they prefer quicker and easier way of making a living, and hence are in search for better opportunities. Irrigation has become unaffordable to many growers, who have yet to see a farmer friendly water distribution system implemented by their government.
Thanks to you, our donors, over the years, few times we were able to save the people from potential famine. However, here we are in our 30th year of operation, where so much has been changed, and yet so much more remains to be improved. What disturbs us most is the lack of institutional approach to carry out this vitally important mission of securing the country with their domestic seed supply. This provides us with no alternative then only to take the matter into our own hands and rebuild the seed bank reserve, with your help, once again, on our own.
With heartfelt appreciation for your kindness,
Varoujan Der Simonian