Artsakh is not just one of the most beautiful countries in the world; given its wonderful climate and fertile soil, it also has the potential of becoming an agricultural powerhouse. So why hasn’t it yet? The answer is, simply, water — not the lack of it, and certainly not the lack of know-how or the willingness to harness it, but the financial means to get it from point A to point B.
Today, Armenia Fund has begun to address this crucial issue by launching a project that will boost agriculture in Artsakh like never before. It is an ambitious, comprehensive initiative that aims to build a slew of infrastructures and refurbish existing ones, introduce cutting-edge technologies, and revolutionize the agricultural sector as a whole through the method of drip irrigation.
Titled “Fruitful Artsakh,” the project will be officially unveiled at Armenia Fund’s annual Thanksgiving Day Telethon on November 23, and function as the organization’s newest flagship program, well into 2022.
In its first five-year phase of implementation alone, “Fruitful Artsakh” is expected to create close to 6,000 jobs and increase crop-raisers’ profits up to twentyfold. As significantly, the project is poised to have a proliferating effect, paving the way for an array of auxiliary new industries, services, and infrastructures, and functioning as a template for success which more and more crop farmers across Artsakh and Armenia are certain to go on to emulate.
Getting to the source
Artsakh has more than 250,000 acres of arable land. Yet, astonishingly, only 7 percent of those lands are cultivated, leaving the remaining 93 percent unused.
There is a twofold problem behind this state of affairs. First, Artsakh’s largest rivers and other surface bodies of water are located in the northwestern part of the country, while agricultural lands are found mostly in the southeast. Bringing water from the north to irrigate the southern lands would be so expensive as to be simply unfeasible. The other part of the problem is that while southern Artsakh has vast water resources, they remain largely inaccessible, as they’re located below ground, at depths of up to 300 feet. The solution, therefore, would be to bring this wealth of water to the surface for irrigation.
It’s a solution that is at the heart of Armenia Fund’s “Fruitful Artsakh” project. Generating irrigation water entails a comprehensive set of steps. It includes digging deep-water wells, building power lines and connecting them to industrial-grade water pumps, linking the latter to filtration systems and pipes spanning entire fields, and, finally, installing drip-irrigation systems and connecting them to underground water pipes. This last component will be implemented by the government of Artsakh, through its agricultural-development program.
Drip irrigation has been a quantum leap in agriculture, as it’s able to turn even barren deserts into lush fields. Here’s how it works: instead of traveling through an open-air canal, the water travels through thin plastic pipes with tiny holes on the bottom. As the water flows through the pipes, it drip-irrigates the ground on which they’re installed. Therefore the water feeds the plant by dripping directly above the root, without being wasted or vaporized.
Each deep-water well in Artsakh can provide irrigation for up to 60 acres of land. Currently, farmers in the country make an average of $120 from an acre of land. The reason for such low profit margins is that farmers are limited to growing crops like wheat and rye, relying primarily on rainwater, instead of raising high-profit but irrigation-intensive crops such as vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Drip-irrigation systems will be a blessing for Artsakh farmers, allowing them to diversify their crops and see their profits jump to the neighborhood of $3,000 per acre.
What makes the “Fruitful Artsakh” project all the more remarkable is that it will have a wide multiplier effect. This will include not only the construction of power lines and various irrigation infrastructures, but also the establishment of factories for processing fruits and vegetables, storage and packing facilities, and export companies, as well as sapling and seedling production services. Moreover, the project will result in systemic progress in terms of professional growth and know-how, with advanced trainings provided to farmers, and the preparation of new cadres of agronomists. These activities will create thousands of additional jobs, further contributing to the country’s economic vitality.
Drip irrigation at work: the story of the Aghajanyans
The Aghajanyan family orchard, in the Martuni Region’s Berdashen village, is a wonderful testament to the effectiveness of drip irrigation fed by a deep-water well. Seven years ago, Sarmen Aghajanyan, along with his father and three brothers, decided to reap the benefits of the rich Artsakh soil. “Mainly, we grew wheat and rye,” Sarmen Aghajanyan recalls. “But, at one point, we decided to start a fruit orchard. We began with 25 acres.”
They planted rows of pomegranate trees. Had it not been for the drip-irrigation system they adopted, their initial 25 acres would have no chance of being expanded into an astounding 150 acres. “It used to take nearly a month to water the whole orchard — and at an extremely high rate of water loss and labor costs,” Aghajanyan says. “But then we installed a drip-irrigation system, because it’s simply impossible to maintain efficiency without it. Today, we can water the entire orchard in a very short time — in about three days — and using high-quality water without any loss.”
Given the effectiveness of drip irrigation, the family is now considering not just planting more pomegranate trees, but raising other crops as well.
There’s a commonly held opinion that one can’t make a good living by cultivating land. This is why many throughout Artsakh leave their villages and move to cities, even migrate to other countries. Today, with their hard work and dedication, the Aghajanyans are certainly proving that opinion wrong.
“Once groundwater is located, it takes only a week to drill a deep-water well, and only a maximum of ten days after that to start irrigating the land,” says Aram Mkhoyan, Artsakh’s Minister of Agriculture. “I can’t imagine a more effective, affordable, or simpler solution.”
Sarmen Aghajanyan’s parting words perhaps capture the essence of the “Fruitful Artsakh” project best. “We’ve created all this on land that’s about 12 kilometers from our enemy,” he says, referring to the family orchard. “We’re not going anywhere. This is our land, and we’re staying right here.”