- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 April 25, 2003 

Tasty Buy Product: Farmers find success making the most of goat milk

The village of Khachik is home to a commercial goat farm.

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 by themselves.

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.

Goat 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 shareholders.

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 Agriculture.

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."

A farmer administers medicine to an injured goat.

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.

These goats provide cheese that's more profitable than dairy farming for Vasil Abrahamyan and his partners.

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 own businesses.

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' recommendations.

Since 1992, when ACDI/VOCA opened its office in Yerevan, more than 40 types of cheeses were developed in Armenia that compete with foreign products.

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  Photo of the week
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Pain in Paint

Yesterday (April 24) members of Mihr youth organization gathered in a park near the State Conservatory where they used black (tragedy) and red (blood) paint to depict Mt. Ararat from its western side. On a white canvas they painted names of villages where Genocide took place.



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