Organic Armenia Project
There is a tremendous opportunity to develop organic agriculture in Armenia. Many organizations and individuals are already involved in various aspects of organic agriculture development, ranging from organic composting test plots and processors exploring organic certification, to government research into sustainable organic feasibility and the development of an Organic Farmers Association. Additionally, the minimal use of chemical inputs, increasing awareness of the environmental benefits of sustainable farming practices, and a rapidly growing export market demand make the timing for organics perfect.
Despite strong interest in organics, there is currently little or no coordination of resources or activities, presenting an opportunity to create networks that will propel existing efforts forward. USDA MAP has an opportunity to immediately take a leadership role.
In addition to market demand in export markets, there may be market opportunities domestically, especially in Yerevan. Market research needs to be conducted, and opportunities for business development, possibly with an existing retail store(s) explored.
Organic and sustainable agriculture can become the leading organizing principle in efforts to revitalize the Armenian economy. Equally, in a country of such a small size, suffering from a plethora of environmental concerns, sustainable agriculture may offer an intriguing opportunity to unite multiple stakeholders in the common goal of preserving and enhancing soil conditions, improving water quality and promoting habitat restoration.
Indeed, there is a unique opportunity to Armenia to define ‘organic’, from the very beginning, as not only meeting international standards, but going “beyond” organic, incorporating a stakeholder commitment to principles that also encompasses environmental stewardship and rural economic development. In short, Armenian ‘organic’ agriculture holds many possibilities not feasible in most developed nations.
We are recommending that MAP pursue development of a dual-track program to:
- Establish an organic export pilot project with a handful of MAP agribusiness clients, and
- Simultaneously develop the “Sustainable Agriculture and Organic Food Development Center” - either as a separate stand-alone association, or under the USDA MAP umbrella.
While we have identified a handful of possible agribusiness clients, there may be additional clients equally or better suited to inclusion in the pilot project. This needs additional research.
Scope of Work
- Determine the status and potential for organic production in Armenia
Prospects for organic agriculture are very good. Several agribusinesses, already practicing organic agriculture want to have organic certification so they can export their products to the EU, US and Russia. These agribusinesses need a certifying body to agree that they meet EU standards before they can export. There is also an association of organic farmers committed to the principles of organic safe food being developed. Parallel to developing export opportunities, domestic interest needs to be encouraged. Despite a small middle class, there appear to be opportunities for domestic market development, at least at an initially small scale. Training for Armenian Extension and then farmers in organic techniques and technology is a must for this to happen. Armenia has the potential to use environmental and ecological issues in support of organic agriculture. With low use of chemical inputs, synthetic hormones and antibiotics during the last 10 years, Armenia is far ahead of many countries in becoming a strong organic agricultural nation.
- Ascertain the Armenian government’s interest in national organic legislation
The Deputy Minister of Agriculture is the Armenian project leader for an UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) 10 year feasibility study on sustainable agriculture, including organics. There is a small window of opportunity to provide guidance and feedback for that study, which has a planned completion date of July 2002. The Deputy Minister expressed strong interest in collaborating on the development of the organic section of the report.
At the same time, it is clear that there is little information about what “organic” really means, both in terms of practices and regulatory requirements. Because of this, and looking at organic development examples in other developing nations (FAO provides great examples in their recent publication “World Markets for Organic Fruit and Vegetables: Opportunities for Developing Countries in the production and export of organic horticultural products”), we believe that development of national legislation is a low priority, and can be pursued over the next 3-5 years. In the meantime, international standards can be utilized for export, and committees can be developed to begin reviewing various international standards and their applicability to local agricultural, environmental and economic conditions.
- Clarify the requirements for exporting organic products to EU, US and Russia, including the specific question of International Standards Organization (ISO) certification
A basic set of certification requirements is available in Russian from the
International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM), which we
have provided in hard-copy format. ISO certification (specifically, ISO 65) is
covered by international organic certification.
For the organic pilot project (described below), we recommend developing a relationship with an IFOAM-accredited organic certification agency, such as US-based Farm Verified Organic (FVO), whose international branch is headquartered in the UK. They will provide (for a fee) the preliminary organic assessment. The USDA MAP can retain a TDY to work with individual pilot project agribusinesses to develop the necessary procedures and related paperwork.
- Outline the necessary process and procedures for establishing organic certification in Armenia
Many issues need to be investigated before pursuing development of domestic certification standards. This, however, will not impede organic market development.
We are recommending a two-track approach:
- Track One establishes a pilot program for farmers and processors who are ready to be certified organic by an international organic certification body that meets EU and US standards.
- Track Two establishes the domestic infrastructure necessary for future development of organic and sustainable agriculture, including: education, training, marketing, policy and certification development. Details of this structure are provided in this report.
- Recommend the feasibility of an Organic Food Development Center or Council for Armenia
It is essential to establish a center that will facilitate and transfer organic agriculture information to the public and farmers in general. This center can be one that brings all the stakeholders together and furthers education, training, marketing, and eventually certification. We suggest it be called the “Sustainable Agriculture and Organic Food Marketing Center,” which will promote organic agriculture in Armenia. An attachment is added about this center that will clarify the objectives and concepts of how to develop organic agriculture in the country.
- Conduct several seminars on organic food production, processing, certification and marketing to interested stakeholders
We had several meetings with various stakeholders. Although we did not conduct any formal seminars, we did provide organic marketing and production information, and had discussions about export opportunities and organic growing practices. We provided Russian-language IFOAM standards to USDA MAP, and five articles on organic production methods (translated into Armenian) to Extension, Ministries of Agriculture and Environment, and others. We also held a marathon, four-hour meeting with Ashtarak-Kat Dairy, which is positioned to take a leadership role in organic certification and marketing. They have already received preliminary inspection and are well underway in developing the record keeping systems necessary for organic certification.
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Last modified: March 26, 2002