- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 March 7, 2003 

Farm Aid: World Food Programme offers agriculture lessons in Lori

In the village of Mets Parni in the Lori region, politics takes a back seat to the common struggle of daily living.

Here, where about 2,500 residents are divided into the "needy" and the "very needy" villagers don't look for change as much as for survival.

"Who can do something?" say villagers shrugging their shoulders.

Nature offers sustenance. But nature is also fickle and as apt to provide drought as rain.

The 1988 earthquake destroyed more than 500 houses in Mets Parni and only a few have been rebuilt.

"After our house had been destroyed we have been living in a so-called house, which is a temporary hostel, an iron domik (small house) that was intended only for living there for 3-4 years," says villager Hrach Gabrielyan. "These days that hostel has eroded and ruined so much that it has constantly been falling piece by piece on our heads."

Villagers have heard campaign promises of every Presidential candidate through four elections and have seen the promises vanish once the votes were in. Nor can nature be counted on, though it is their only hope.

"From the agricultural points of view our village is located almost in one of the terrible climate zones," says head of the village Hrayr Yaghubyan. "At least each three years out of five are completely unfavorable here for agriculture and during other years we hardly make ends meet. There is either drought or extremely wet weather here and as a result villagers remain empty-handed and the village suffers."

But the questions of despair may be about to find answers in a new project being introduced in Mets Parni.

Last month the United Nations World Food Programme began "Food for Learning", a program with 78 Mets Parni villagers in which WFP provides lessons in farming. The men and women in the program also have a chance to get cooking materials and food.

"This project helps villagers very much," the village head says. "For learning, villagers get flour, oil and other foodstuff, which in some measure makes the terrible situation in which villagers found themselves, easier."

And, the project renews itself, as Yaghubyan explains:

"They will not mill and make flour of the small amount of wheat they raised but will keep it as seeds for raising another crop. Of course the project is prepared for needy people, however here, everybody is in the same state and such courses should even have involved more people."

Villagers who have participated since the first lessons (taught in the village school) say they have found answers for numerous questions and are hopeful they will be better prepared to meet the challenges of nature in their region.

"Villagers learn subtleties, which they couldn't know before," says agriculturist Slavik Minasyan, who is training others in accordance with the teaching for food principle. He goes from one village to another and teaches villagers secrets of agriculture. "I think that in some measure financial conditions will improve thanks to specialized knowledge and slowly villagers will become professional."

As head of the village assures, villagers have been living for many years thanks to agriculture, cattle-breeding and mainly to itinerant work. However, roads are closed for many of them. And the number of people involved in itinerant work decreased as many villagers don't have the possibility to leave the village

"Last year's surprise (drought) left us only empty pockets, debts and led us to the conditions that we hadn't even managed to send our children to school," says Hrach Gabrielyan.

Ashot Mkrtchyan, who for 20 years worked in (Soviet) collective farms, says that once on their own, many farmers did not know how to get the best from their land, especially in conditions such as last year's drought. He also says that many villagers cannot afford top-quality seeds.

"And as a result all efforts of villagers don't even provide a small income," says Vladimir Gharajyan, who is a chief observer of Vanadzor branch office of the WFP project. "That's why WFP food for knowledge project had been launched in this village."

The teacher Minasyan says the WFP is giving villagers answers to many questions but: "The results of those lessons will be obvious in autumn, when the season for harvesting starts."


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