village of Khachik is home to a commercial
The mountain sun of southern Armenia harshly
lights the men's faces in the center of town as
they chit chat about Saddam Hussein's haste to
give up Iraq.
In the hills nearby, a more immediate crises
is being managed as about seven men, all equipped
with medications and bandages, are trying to fix
a goat's broken leg.
The men work gently as if the animal were their
own baby. And in some manner it is their baby,
as the farm they run is something they created
When the goat squeals in pain, the men try to
comfort it with tender words. It does not have
a name, but instead has a number stamped on its
ear - the only identification that sets it apart
from the other 135 goats in a rapidly growing
farm in the village of Khachik, located right
on the border between Armenia and Nakhijevan.
Unlike many in their country who complain about
poverty, these men believe that nobody but themselves
are responsible for their destiny. So, they decided
to start their own business.
farmers train dogs for herding their goats.
It all began one-and-a-half years ago with 50
goats and an abandoned cattle-farm building. At
the beginning it was just a couple of friends
running the farm, but subsequently the farm has
become a registered business and its owners became
The men received consulting in goat cheese production
and marketing strategies by the American program
"Farmer-to-Farmer" and a credit of about
$15,000 in equipment from the US Department of
The cheese production climbed to about two tons
in the first year. This year, the men expect their
production to double.
Vasil Abramyan, 37, is one of the holders picking
the first rewards.
The farm is a real passion for Vasil who, as
a former tractor driver, has never imagined that
life would bring him such an amazing challenge.
"It was hard at the beginning because I
had to be responsible for everything I do, whether
it is right or wrong," he says. "But
the business is definitely rewarding."
farmer administers medicine to an injured
Vasil's personal income mounts to 100,000 drams
monthly (about $180), multiple times more than
most villagers make.
His main reason to get involved in the goat farm
business was to produce goat cheese, something
of a delicacy in Armenia. It became very popular
for its "buried technique," which consists
of putting the cheese in the ground and leaving
it there for about 10 months, which gives it a
special taste. "It is delicious, rare and
brings good money," Vasil says.
But Vasil also discovered that raising goats
is much cheaper than raising cattle, and selling
goat cheese is more profitable than selling dairy
cheese. Today, on the market one can buy dairy
cheese for an average of 1,500 drams, while the
goat cheese costs a third more.
Vasil knew how to make cheese before starting
his business, but only in a home setting as opposed
to on a farm. At the farm he and his colleagues
are concerned about business as well as food.
"Our cheese is not only a delicious foodstuff
but a quality product," Vasil says.
goats provide cheese that's more profitable
than dairy farming for Vasil Abrahamyan and
The goat cheese Vasil and his partners produce
is well-packed, and their equipment allows them
to work fast and generate large quantities.
Unlike conditions from Soviet times, when livestock
milking was done manually by many workers, goats
at this farm are milked using expensive machinery.
The only thing that remained unchanged from the
old ways is that women are still responsible for
milking the farm animals. Men are in charge of
everything else. They do the farm management,
collect provisions for animals, and tend to the
raising of the herd.
Representatives of ACDI/VOCA (Agricultural Cooperative
Development International / Volunteers Overseas
Cooperative Assistance) say they run numerous
programs that help Armenian farmers start their
Artak Harutyunyan, who is the organization's
country representative, says that agriculture
consulting is provided free to the farmers by
American expert volunteers, and substantial credits
are given by various agencies based on experts'
Since 1992, when ACDI/VOCA opened its office
in Yerevan, more than 40 types of cheeses were
developed in Armenia that compete with foreign