YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—The Ministry of Agriculture assessed on Wednesday the severe consequences of an unprecedented spring snowstorm for thousands of farmers growing fruits and vegetables in southern Armenia.
Deputy Agriculture Minister Garnik Petrosian estimated at over 11 billion drams ($26 million) the total damage from a late blizzard that swept through the country at the end of March.
The heavy snowfall accompanied by freezing temperatures blocked some Armenian highways and forced the government to cancel classes in schools and universities. More importantly, it killed early blossoms on many fruit trees in the Ararat Valley south and west of Yerevan serving as a key source of revenue for local farmers.
Citing a detailed evaluation conducted by his ministry, Petrosian said the calamity damaged crops on over 9,000 hectares of agricultural land cultivated by residents of some 290 villages. He said their apricot orchards bore the brunt of the frost.
Petrosian predicted that Armenia’s apricot output will total only about 8,000 metric tons this year, sharply down from almost 90,000 tons reported in 2013. The damage to other crops such as peaches, grapes and apples was less severe, he told a news conference.
Petrosian unveiled a set of government measures designed to help the 3,700 or so rural households hit hard by the snowstorm. He said they will be exempted from land tax, given free vegetable seeds and entitled to a 50 percent discount on irrigation fees. Also, he said, the Central Bank of Armenia is negotiating with commercial banks to freeze repayment of agricultural loans extended to those farmers.
Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian likewise promised government assistance to the farmers when he visited some of the affected areas late last week. But neither he nor the Ministry of Agriculture signaled plans to provided them with financial compensation.
Armenian villagers, most of them subsistence farmers, regularly lose much of their anticipated revenue due to hailstorms, frosts, droughts and other unfavorable weather conditions. Petrosian said mandatory agricultural insurance is the only realistic solution to this problem. But he gave no indications that the government will introduce it anytime soon.