April 09, 2004
Cold Reality: Nature (again) turns a brutal breath to village farmers
By Gayane Lazarian
A cold snap last week has created havoc for some farmers and disaster for
others in the Ararat Valley and beyond, whose fruit trees blossomed too soon
for their own good.
The Ministry of Agriculture plans to release a damage report next week, but
already it is expected that this will be another poor year especially for
Armenian apricots. Apricot crops were below average the past three years due
to a harsh winter and floods.
Grapes, nuts, tomatoes and most fruits are expected to suffer from the April
frostbite that came after a late-March tease of unusually warm temperatures.
The head of Plants Cultivation Department of the Ministry of Agriculture
Garnik Petrosyan, says that in addition to damage in the fertile Ararat
valley, trees have also suffered in Vayots Dzor, Kotayk, Aragatsotn and Lori
Vardan Aghajanyan has a 170-square meter greenhouse, where nothing is green
now. He took a $3,500 bank loan to finance his tomato crop.
“I would have had tomatoes in the beginning of May and I could have sold
them for 250-500 drams (about 45-90 cents per kilogram) and that was to be
my income,” Aghajanyan says. “Each plant would have provided me with a
one-dollar profit, but nothing is left.”
Petrosyan says the government should find a way to compensate.
“Taking into account the fact that apricot crops have been damaged for three
years and the fact that people who grow apricots could be using lands for
other purposes, we think the government must free them from paying land
tax,” says Petrosyan.
But farmers such as Hayk Barseghyan of the Dasht village of Armavir region
are not thinking about tax, so much as lost crops.
“We ran out of firewood. We burnt everything we had,” he says, referring to
efforts to warm the trees with smoke. “We covered our greenhouses with
cellophane two times. We used all clothes and rags we had: blankets, carpets
. We covered greenhouses with everything we could find but everything was in
vain as we couldn’t save them.”
Hayk’s mother, 65 year old Nunufar Barseghyan sits, crying, under a flowered
apricot tree, which has been frostbitten.
“I’ve been living in this village for 46 years but I never saw something
like this. How could temperature fall from +27, +30 to – 11 in April? This
was God’s punishment,” she says.
With difficulty she opens the door of a greenhouse, where she planted
seedlings of cucumber and gord. Plants are dead with their tops hung down
onto gray ground. One candle is placed next to every cultured plant.
“During the whole night we were lighting candles,” Nunufur says. “Can you
imagine how many boxes of candles we lit? We wanted to keep warmth in such a
way but everything was in vain.”
They lost about $350. Hayk says they took money from the bank and left gold
as a deposit. The land is their only source of income.
And their fate is shared by most of the 800-900 villagers of Dasht. About 60
percent of the 153 hectare area is given to gardening.
“This was God’s punishment.”
Village head Hrant Petrosyan worries. “Nothing is left,” he says. “Windows
of houses were covered with 2-3 millimeters of ice ice. How could flowered
trees survive in such conditions?”
According to specialists, such cold temperatures in Ararat Valley haven’t
been registered within the last 100 years.
Villager Volodia Gevorgyan says his village has even lost potatoes that were
planted 10 centimeters deep.
“We won’t have even mulberries,” he says. “Our hope for the entire year,
everything that must have helped us to live, has disappeared.”