Stronger livelihoods help Armenian families manage the current crisis

Support for rural Armenians helps them face the COVID-19 pandemic with more confidence

The two older children of the Khachatryan family, one of the families who received livelihood support from an FAO project in northern Armenia. ©FAO/Karen Minasyan


Life in rural areas has its beauties and hardships. Yet, Qyaram Khachatryan said he would never want to exchange his village life in northern Armenia for living in a city, even after he lost virtually everything in the devastating earthquake of 1988. Lost everything but his good spirit and hope, that is. Thankfully, these are two essential tools for the current crisis as well.

“It is of course a hard time for everyone,” said Qyaram. “Still, I think we are fortunate that our family was an FAO pilot project beneficiary.”

This smallholder farmer, father of four, lives in the tiny house of his mother, works hard in the garden and on the fields and takes seasonal jobs to make ends meet for his seven-member family.

Their circumstances changed for the better some two years ago, when Qyaram’s mother, along with 132 other families who are covered by the government’s social protection programme, received agricultural support and materials through a Cash+ pilot of an FAO project, funded by the Russian Federation.

The social protection benefits they are entitled to only cover the family’s immediate needs. However, the Cash+ pilot goes beyond just financial support, providing families with inputs to help them tap into the agricultural potential of the land.

The 30 hens and raspberry bushes delivered to the Khachatryan family provided them with some extra income, establishing a better financial foundation and bigger buffer in times of crises. The whole family helped the flock more than double in number, allowing them to eat more protein-rich, diverse foods and generate some additional income by selling the surplus. The children, who enjoy caring for the animals, love eating the eggs even more.

They also strove to become self-sufficient in producing chicken feed by growing crops destined for this on their nearby plot.

Along with this tangible support, Qyaram also participated in trainings provided by the project, learning more about the value of maintaining healthy, diverse diets and practicing food safety at home.

Things were going smoothly for the family.

Left/Top: Qyaram’s mother, Lyuba, planting beans in their garden. Right/Bottom: Qyaram feeding the chickens. ©FAO/Karen Minasyan

Then the COVID-19 health pandemic hit this Caucasian country in early March. The closure of schools, limits on people’s movements and other restrictions introduced to stop the spread of the virus, though necessary for public health, have affected the economy and hampered agricultural production.

Understanding the impact

FAO carried out a rapid assessment to gather information on the ground to see how the restrictions implemented to stop COVID-19 have impacted the economy, changed livelihoods and affected the food security and nutrition of rural communities.

Surveying Cash+ recipient families by phone in the two poorest provinces of the country, FAO staff asked families about their health status, the effect of the emergency situation on their employment, agricultural work, food accessibility and changes in consumption patterns, as well as the market situation, particularly access to markets and price changes.

Reassuringly, the assessment found that, even in the provinces with the highest percentage of malnutrition and stunting among children, vulnerable rural families, including Qyaram’s, who had received training, livestock and feed support from FAO to complement social cash transfers, had a more balanced diet and, in general, a stronger financial foundation to cope with the COVID-19 crisis.

In the last four years, FAO’s Cash+ pilot has supported vulnerable rural families, over 800 people in total, to maintain their livelihoods and make them more resilient to shocks such as the current crisis. ©FAO/Karen Minasyan

“[At that time,] we were so encouraged that we decided to increase our number of hens, which was a wise decision,” said Qyaram, “because now that I’m not able to take a casual job, our family fully relies on these chickens. We are coping with the situation quite well and hope things will change soon.”

The earlier CASH+ support had improved smallholder families’ resilience.

With the government’s regular social cash transfers, families have still been able to buy food and meet other basic needs during this COVID-19 emergency. FAO’s support has additionally helped households stabilize their situation and build a stronger basis, allowing them to continue agricultural production, despite the restrictions caused by COVID-19 and disruptions in supply chains, thus maintaining their livelihoods.

Strengthening food security and nutrition in the Caucasus and central Asia

FAO’s work in Armenia integrates technical assistance with support to national policymaking, with the goal of enhancing the nutrition sensitivity of social protection programmes, strengthening nutrition education and fostering agricultural investments.

Building stronger foundations for vulnerable Armenian families by safeguarding their livelihoods is key to ensuring that families can get through times of crises and shocks and make quicker recoveries afterwards. While COVID-19 is the current crisis, global hunger is the larger one. FAO helps families keep their livelihoods strong and stay food secure, ensuring that Armenia and countries worldwide, are on track to achieve a hunger free world.

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2. Zero hunger, 8. Decent work and economic growth, 15. Life on land