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FAO/WFP report calls for emergency aid to Armenia


After suffering through one of the hottest and driest summers in decades, Armenia faces the prospect of a bleak winter. Food production in Armenia is expected to plummet because of the summer drought, which affected many countries throughout the Caucuses, Central and South Asia and the Middle East.

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After a summer of severe drought, Armenia's food supply situation looks grim for winter.

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A recent joint FAO/WFP mission to Armenia found that the country's overall food supply situation for 2000/01 looks grim. Those most vulnerable to food shortages are the nearly 300 000 subsistence farmers in the mountainous rain-fed areas of northern Armenia. The mission's report warns that "a timely and targeted intervention is essential to prevent widespread starvation and misery".

During this year's crucial harvesting months, rainfall was up to 70 percent below normal in Armenia's most important agricultural areas. Potato, the country's staple crop, is expected to be 250 000 tonnes - down 40 percent from last year. Combined wheat and barley production for 2000/01 is forecast at 205 000 tonnes - 27 percent less than the 1999 harvest.

Armenia will need 502 000 tonnes of imported wheat and barley for 2000/01. Commercial imports are expected to account for 358 000 tonnes, and 70 000 tonnes of food aid has been pledged. This leaves an uncovered cereal deficit of 75 000 tonnes. The report states that "a shortfall of this magnitude, if not addressed by the international community, could severely affect vulnerable groups."

Fruit cultivation, because it relies on irrigation, was largely spared from this year's drought and production rose by nearly 50 percent. However, many small-scale fruit growers cannot sell their surplus produce owing to the poor state of roads, the high costs of transport and the general lack of an effective marketing infrastructure. Seasonal surpluses of perishable produce, such as apples, apricots and peaches, mean low prices for local fruit growers. The mission learned through individual farmers and village officials that in some areas "the current prices of these fruits are so low that they are not even picking them."

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Fruit production has risen 50 percent in Armenia, but growers often cannot get their produce to large markets. These farmers are participating in a TeleFood-funded microproject that helps Armenian refugee communities establish fruit and vegetable gardens.

Armenia/20679/E.Yeves

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Livestock producers are expected to face tremendous hardships this winter as the drought has caused a sharp decline in the availability of animal feed. The shortage is expected to lead to widespread undernutrition in livestock, and there are fears that the coming winter will see high rates of livestock mortality. The report notes that the sale and slaughtering of livestock has already increased, depressing prices and reducing incomes for producers.

Agriculture employs 42 percent of the Armenian population and contributes about one-third to the GDP. Arable land is very limited and many farmers cultivate areas on steep slopes that have become highly eroded. As it is, Armenians suffer from widespread poverty where living conditions are already precarious. Now access to food, particularly for rural farmers, has become exceedingly difficult. Much of their produce has been lost to drought, and they have little to sell or barter.

To boost farm production and prevent more food shortages next year, the report recommends giving emergency support to the agricultural sector. Farmers need a secure supply of winter wheat seeds for planting, livestock producers need access to adequate amounts of animal feed and the country's crumbling irrigation systems require major upgrading.

13 October 2000

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