At the beginning of the 90ies of the XX century, Armenia was the first country among the former Soviet republics that implemented mass privatization of agricultural assets including land, livestock, poultry, and machinery. As a result, more than 340,000 private small-size farms (1.5 ha per farm) with over 1.3 million land parcels had been created. However small and fragmented farms as well as the application of mostly outdated and resource-extensive farming techniques and technologies were hindering the efficient organisation of agricultural production. Old and dilapidated infrastructure, difficulties in marketing agricultural produce, lack of access to financial services, inadequate opportunities for skills enhancement and vocational training, and poor professional extension services played a drastic role in deepening rural poverty that in 2020 comprised 27% of the whole Armenian population.
Since 1999, the plantation of community orchards on abandoned reserve lands was an important part of Shen's activities. After analyzing the achieved outcomes, Shen decided to review the strategy of establishing new fruit orchards. Particularly more favorable conditions had been created for fostering rural entrepreneurship and supporting individual farmers. Shen engages farmers who have determination but do not have enough means for planting orchards on poor lands. After assessing the agricultural potential of the communities, Shen supports farmers by ameliorating their barren and poor lands and by rehabilitating irrigation systems. The beneficiaries have a direct and substantial financial and in-kind contribution to this process.
Today the rural poor rely on markets that are informal, often monopolised, and not intended to meet their basic needs. Given the mentioned factors Shen came up with new ideas and approaches to assist smallholder farmers to switch from mostly subsistence agriculture to cash crop production. Since 2010 Shen implements Making Markets Work for the Poor (M4P) innovative approach in its income generation projects. Essentially Shen facilitates smallholders to get better involved in the main profitable value chains that ultimately convert into higher incomes for them.
Furthermore, in 2013 Shen initiated new projects putting the main emphasis on income generation of rural households through community mobilization, particularly, the organisation and development of agricultural cooperatives. It aims to mobilize community members to identify common agriculture problems and find consolidated solutions. As a first step, Shen promotes the creation of the simplest community-based entities – consumer or marketing (non for profit) cooperatives (Success Stories of Cooperatives (2019)).
We see that gradually farmers realize the benefits of cooperation in all stages of agricultural production and marketing. The increasing number of newly established consumer and agricultural cooperatives demonstrates the effectiveness of the adopted strategy.
Shen is a pioneer in introducing organic agriculture practices in Armenia aiming at the creation of a new sustainable and environmentally friendly income source for rural households. Starting from 2000 till 2012 Shen with financial and thematic support of HEKS-EPER (Switzerland) as the main partner was promoting the development of organic agriculture by disseminating information on organic agriculture cultivation methods among farmer groups and individual farmers. This endeavour was a part of HEKS-EPER regional programme in South Caucasus countries. It had been done by developing free advisory services to farmers as well as raising awareness of organic fruits among the local consumers. During these years other Shen partners, namely Chene-France, Bread for the World, ICCO (the Netherlands), UNDP GEF, and Regional Council of Auvergne Rhône-Alpes co-funded this project.
The main objectives of the project were:
initiating organic extension group;
establishing private local organic certification body;
introducing the new organic agricultural inputs to the farmers,
developing both export and local markets,
lobbying and advocacy activities.
In the past 12 years, all mentioned objectives are principally met and the organic food sector is evolving in Armenia. In fact, the further development of the sector is taken over by Armenian businesses. As a result of these efforts today a number of organic farms are established in Armenia.
In 2015 EU and Austrian Development Agency launched Organic Agriculture Support Initiative (OASI) in Armenia. This project covered a comprehensive range of areas starting from legislative amendments on organic agriculture, promotion of organic extension services, developing curricula and a state-of-the-art textbook; providing both big and small grants for farmers seeking to start, diversify or expand organic production.
Demonstrative educational centre of organic agriculture
The project started with the funds provided by the Small Grants Program of the UN Global Environmental Fund, EED, and Shen-France in 2012. The Demonstrative Educational Center of Organic Agriculture (in Akunq community, Kotayq marz) was introducing and testing organic and environmentally friendly cultivation methods, and effective use of technologies and equipment. The fundamental principles of organic agriculture - biodiversity preservation, efficient usage of soil and water, and utilisation of solar energy would be put into practice at the Center. The purpose of establishing such an educational centre was to create an advisory hub equipped with new technologies for the farmers of Armenia, where seminars and hands-on trainings would be organized.
Given that the National Agrarian University of Armenia initiated a master's program in organic agriculture in 2019, Shen NGO Board, with the approval of the UN Global Environmental Fund, donated the training center to ANAU, on a condition that it must be managed as a certified organic demonstration-training center. Another condition is that Shen NGO will continue providing free training and consulting for organic farmers.
Use of bumblebees in organic orchards
In 2013 Shen's Extension group decided to use bumblebees to increase the effectiveness of pollination in organic orchards. This method is practiced worldwide, whereas its use in Armenia is still limited. TRIPOL is an effective product ensuring excellent pollination of a number of fruit and vegetable crops, both indoors and outdoors. The benefits of Innovative natural pollination for the user are as follows:
saving labour costs,improvement of crop quality,
increase in productivity,
pollination less dependent on weather conditions and native pollinators,
reduction of pollen quantity in glasshouse improves the working environment,
bumblebees are compatible with honeybees.
Shen NGO promotes also the development of conventional agriculture in those regions of Armenia where organic agriculture is not feasible yet putting special emphasis on the cultivation of high-value crops – fruits, vegetables, and high-value cereals. In this regard, Shen conducted several studies on the most promising value chains in many regions of Armenia. The production of high-value agriproduce complements more traditional low-value crops produced in relatively big volumes in most of the mountainous regions of the country thus bringing additional incomes to those households.
Although agriculture is the main economic activity with a significant share in the rural households' incomes there are other sectors beyond agriculture that may supplement the family budgets. Shen assists those communities and separate households having the potential and intention to get involved in non-farming activities.
Processing of agricultural products
Shen NGO promotes the processing of locally produced agricultural products to create added value and to access new markets in Armenia and abroad. The beneficiaries of this component are local agribusinesses, individual farmers, and agricultural cooperatives. Particularly, we support agribusiness in the processing of fruits and vegetables (production of dried, canned fruits, berries, and vegetables), processing of cereals (grain refining, winnowing), production of crushed spelled, production of oils (flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, grape seeds, apricot stones), milk collection and processing. Within this component, the beneficiaries receive support in the form of extensive training, technical assistance, exchange visits, and participation in local and international trade fairs. The financial support for the establishment of processing units is provided on a competitive basis with the condition that at least 50% of investment should be done by the beneficiary business.
Shen NGO implemented several projects on the development of local tourism. Particularly in 2008 Bed and Breakfast inns were established in Tsapatagh, Shorzha, and Pambak villages (at the shore of Lake Sevan) by local young entrepreneurs who completed our trainings and now successfully operate B&Bs during the summer months. In 2012 based on AUA research on B&B operations, a manual on Inn Management was published by Shen. The number B&Bs in different regions of Armenia increases year by year allowing to accommodate a higher number of visitors.
Stressing the willingness of foreign and local tourists to visit a large number of historical monuments in Armenia, Shen NGO, with the financial and methodological support of the Yalkezian Foundation, implements hiking trails improvements project. The project intends to improve the existing trails as well as construct new ones.
The first project implemented in 2017 was the construction of the Gosh-Khachardzan 12 km trail supported by the Trans Caucasian Trails project. The constructed trail has been presented to the touristic agencies. Signboards were placed and sanitary facilities were constructed in the frame of the project.
Handicraft is reviving in Chambarak
The project designed for women from Chambarak and nearby villages aiming at increasing income through embroidery training was successfully completed. It started in 2005 and serves as a good example of project sustainability.
Encouraged by the success of the project, Shen intends to implement similar projects in Tavush and Gegharkunik marzes.