FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia

FAO working to revitalize a historic sector in Armenia – grape production

Viticulture, the science of growing grapes, dates back as far as 8 000 years in Armenia. The country has a favourable setting for grape production and it is a lucrative business even today.

But not paying enough attention to preserving genetic resources and maintaining healthy vines could jeopardize future good prospects for the sector. At the request of the national government, FAO is working on both aspects.

As part of this effort, a workshop today in Yerevan is reviewing Armenia’s regulatory framework for grape production, and examining innovative European viticulture practices.

The workshop will conclude with an open discussion to identify opportunities, gaps, and problems that hinder Armenian grape production from meeting present-day standards.

“Grape growers often lack knowledge – especially on pruning, irrigation, disease and pest control, as well as on the application of new technologies used in grape-growing worldwide,” said FAO agricultural officer Avetik Nersisyan.

A sector with potential
Today, around one third of Armenia’s total orchard, berry and vineyard area is planted with grape – and there is still potential for expansion. The produce is sold as fresh fruit, or used in brandy and wine production for domestic and foreign markets.

Gross yield and export quantities have been increasing year by year, but over the past 25 years almost no work has been carried out on grape variety improvement. Now, most varieties cultivated in Armenia are threatened with extinction.

Armenia’s Sustainable Agricultural Development Strategy 2010-2020 establishes preservation of plant genetic resources and winemaking as priorities.

To ensure availability and proper management of genetic resources for continued growth of the sector, FAO established three vineyards in Armenia: a grape-collection vineyard for preserving genetic resources, a foundation-mother vineyard for production of grape-planting materials, and a demonstration plot for educational purposes where modern intensive grape-growing technologies are applied.

Confronting a deadly pest
Another threat to Armenia’s grape industry is phylloxera. In the 18th century, this soil-borne pest plagued European vineyards. Today, it is the bane of Armenia’s grape-growing regions and has the potential to wipe out entire vineyards. It took only a couple of years for phylloxera to spread from one small vineyard throughout the entire Ararat valley – Armenia’s main winemaking region.

Phylloxera will be tackled by a new FAO technical assistance project that got under way earlier this week.

“In Armenia, 90 percent of the vineyards grow vine from their own roots,” FAO expert Nersisyan said. “Only 10 percent are planted with phylloxera-resistant rootstocks. To prevent further spread of phylloxera, farmers will be forced to tear out their vines and replant with new phylloxera-resistant varieties within the next 3-7 years.”

The FAO project has two objectives: to help with production of certified, phylloxera-resistant planting materials, and to provide policy support for development of a new certification system for grape planting materials.

Small-scale growers own 95 percent of all Armenian vineyards. These small producers may benefit the most from FAO’s technical assistance.

21 July 2017, Yerevan, Armenia