Developing capacity for strengthening food security and nutrition

One cow can make a difference – How the FAO project helped improving food security and nutrition through social protection interventions in Armenia

3 March 2020 | Shirak province, Armenia – The Atoyan family lives in Mayisyan village of Shirak province (marz), which is situated in the north-west, of the Republic of Armenia. In the West it borders with Turkey, in the North with Georgia. Being at the height of 1 500–2 000 m above sea level, the marz is the coldest region of Armenia, where the air temperature sometimes reaches -46 °C in winter. The marz has the highest level of malnutrition and under-five stunting in the country.

Merselida Atoyan is 69 old woman leaving with her son Paruyr, daughter-in-law Liana and her two grandchildren – Hovik, 13, and Mane, who has just turned 4 years old. Merselida has worked as a cashier for thirty years in her marz centre Gyumri, until the devastating earthquake hit the marz in 1988, taking the lives of almost 50 000 people and getting around 130 000 injured. The earthquake destroyed buildings and infrastructure, leaving thousands of people without any means of survival such as shelters and jobs. Since that, the Atoyan family had tough time and had to find the way to survive. The son of Merselida was supporting her and two sisters by working in the field with his mother, migrating to Russia for seasonal labour work, etc.

The family owns a 1.5 ha land, which, though, is left abandoned as there was not enough means to rent a tractor to till the land or to buy agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertilizers, and to pay for irrigation water. The only stable income the family had was the money received from the “Family Living Standards Enhancement Benefits” social assistance government programme.

“The government benefit that we have been receiving was not enough to live a decent life and provide my grandchildren with healthy and nutritious food”, Merselida opened up. “For a certain period, it seemed there was no way out from such live”.

But then, Merselida learned about FAO’s cash plus pilot that offered to combine Family Benefits, which were provided within the national programme “Family Living Standards Enhancement Benefits”, with the provision of cattle or poultry and feed for one year, in addition to training. It aimed to help vulnerable households make productive investments and, ultimately, improve their food security and nutrition. This opportunity seemed as for the Atoyan family so for 28 families in Shirak marz ‘a light at the end of the tunnel’.

“FAO provided us with a pregnant heifer and for a year. Our Annman (that is how they named the cow, which means ‘inimitable’ in Armenian) gives 6-7 litters of milk a day, which is enough to feed the family with milk and produce homemade yogurt, cheese and butter. We even manage to sell the surplus to earn money for taking care of other needs, to buy meat and eggs, also fruits and vegetables,” tells Merselida with a smile on her face. “The cow gave birth to a calf and is now pregnant with another one due in May. We are so happy; soon we will already have three cows! We could not imagine how one cow could change our lives and give us hope for the future. Now I am confident for the future of our family and especially for the future of my grandchildren”.

group©FAO/Ani Grigoryan

Merselida’s son is now thinking of breeding the cows and having his own animal farm. He is thinking of becoming a big farmer one day, and now more than ever this dream is not just a dream, but a near future business plan.

Under this pilot, FAO also provided trainings in nutrition, hygiene, food security and safety for the beneficiary families to have better knowledge and understanding on cattle and poultry care, feeding, artificial insemination and health.

FAO pilot “Cash+” supports 133 families in Shirak and Lori marzes the Republic of Armenia, which comprise 802 people, including 388 children. It is worth mentioning, that based on the positive outcomes of the Cash+ pilot, which have been widely acknowledged during the Government hearings, in December 2019, the Government of the Republic of Armenia approved the new program launching that aims at boosting the productive capacities of the socially vulnerable households.

The pilot is a part of the comprehensive project “Developing capacity for strengthening food security and nutrition in selected countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia”, funded by the Russian Federation.