A.T.G. Welcomes Armenia’s Partnership with UN Agriculture Body

Preparing the ground for the nursery

FRESNO—Armenian Technology Group, Inc. congratulated the Armenian Government on its collaboration with the United Nation Food and Agriculture Organization’s International Plant Protection Secretariat. The convention addressed the considerable infestation problem in Armenia from microscopic lice that live on and eats roots of grapes, known as phylloxera.

A three-day workshop was held in Yerevan, Armenia, from July 24 to 26, “to help Armenian national plant-protection authorities build their capacities to protect the country from the impact of quarantine pests, especially in the context of grape phylloxera.”

Phylloxera is a nematode, a microscopic louse that feeds on the roots and leaves of susceptible grapevines, and eventually diminishes the grape-root’s ability to absorb needed water and nutrients to sustain the vines.

The Board of Directors of A.T.G. commends Georgi Avetisyan for his leadership and courage in facing the problem head-on with Armenia’s governmental participation in the educational workshop. During past administrations, the situation had worsened, as the nematode spread into the Ararat Valley. A.T.G. first identified this problem years ago and, at the time, brought it to the attention of prior authorities.

In 1995, during their early visits to the Artsakh region, members of the A.T.G. Board of Directors recognized the existence of the phylloxera nematode in grape vines and realized the economic disaster that it would cause to the grape and related industries in that region. By 1997, A.T.G. executive committee members, then comprised of Dr. Arthur Hazarabedian, Chairman, Dr. Leon Garoyan, Corporate Secretary, George Leylegian, Chief Financial Officer, and Varoujan Der Simonian, Executive Director, met with the Prime Minister of Artsakh at the time, Jerayr Poghosian, and A.T.G.-Artsakh Director, Vladimer Zakeyan—a respected agronomist, former deputy minister of Agriculture and once director of Hatrut region—and decided to take concrete action. They set up a phylloxera-resistant grape root-stock nursery in the war-torn border-village, Kheramort, in the Askeran region. The goal was to preserve indigenous grape varieties from complete destruction, and to ensure that the growers will be able to protect their vineyards, investment and hard labor from the devastating economic impact caused by phylloxera nematode.

Upon the directors’ report to A.T.G. Fresno, the late Ronald Khachigian, who was president, acted immediately by contacting his brother, Luther Khachigian, who generously donated 5,400 mature phylloxera-resistant wild rootstocks to A.T.G. to help set up the nursery in Kheramort in 1998.

Poghosian’s efficiency and leadership in making possible the timely transport of the cuttings, from Yerevan’s airport to Stepanakerd—uninterrupted—was crucial in setting up the nursery.

During subsequent years, with the loyal support of its financial donors, A.T.G., with Vladimir Zakeyan, employed 53 families from local villages to create a 200-acre grape nursery that enabled the growing of over 100,000 grafted seedlings per year.

As a result, thousands of acres of vineyards were rejuvenated and planted in the Artsakh region. The indiginous Khindogny red grape variety was saved from complete loss. It is due to Mr. Zakeyan’s efforts that, today, Armenian wine lovers enjoy sipping superb red wine made of Khindogny grapes. [See Matt Kettmann’s extensive five-page feature article in June 15, 2005 issue of Wine Spectator magazine about A.T.G.’s role in rejuvenating efforts of grape and wine industries in the region.]

In 2011, Zakeyan stepped down from his position. He expressed, he was “no longer able to work with the new leadership,” which had values quite a different than his upbringing would allow, so that his service might be effective. Araik Harutyunyan, who occupied the Prime Minister’s office (2007 – 2018), pressed grape growers to sell their harvest directly to him—at a much lower than the market price [paying only 80 dram per kg instead of the market price of 120 dram per kg]. He then exploited the Prime Minister’s office by selling the harvest to wine and spirit processing plants and keeping the profit.

The grape growers revolted, stopped growing grapes. Hence, they were hesitant to invest their resources in obtaining and planting new rootstocks, and, in many instances, pulled out their vines.

In 2014, A.T.G. transferred the management of the grape nursery to well-known wine-maker Vahe Kueskguerian. The Board of Directors of A.T.G. has had full confidence in Mr. Kueshguerian, who understands the value and the importance of preserving and more broadly extending the phylloxera-resistant rootstock nursery to the grape industry in Atsakh.

A.T.G. restricted its operations, in order to prevent the transport of any plants, or other agricultural items, from phylloxera-infected regions to other locations in Armenia. Nevertheless, A.T.G. In-country Director, Gagik Mkrchyan and Executive Director Varoujan Der Simonian witnessed other entities moving truckloads of cement poles from Artsakh to Ararat Valley, to relocate the posts in their fields. Knowing well that the microscopic louse phylloxera nematodes could live on the poles as well and would infect the fields of Armenia, A.T.G. brought their concerns to the attention of the authorities, as early as 2005, yet, they were not allowed to act in preventive ways.

Seven years ago the destructive nematode appeared in a small family vineyard in Ararat Valley. In 2014, the A.T.G. Board of Directors again raised the issue directly with the authorities, during a face to face meeting and through the media, observing that “A major agricultural catastrophe is lurking in Armenia. Armenia’s centuries-old grape and related industries are in danger of losing their productivity, potentially impacting the livelihood of thousands of families, while causing a major loss of export-potential and income to the entire country!” The statement from A.T.G. is available online.

Five years have passed, since we informed the public about the looming danger grape growers were facing within Armenia.

Time is of the essence, and yes, we can, still, make a difference!

The aforementioned workshop provides an opportunity for the ATG Board of Directors to work closely with the new leadership. Again, we want to help growers rejuvenate their domestic grape vineyards by grafting their varieties to phylloxera-resistant rootstock.

Now, time is of the essence! Soon, farmers in Armenia may lose all their vines! They could be forced to rip everything out to replant their vineyards with new phylloxera-resistant vines. We must be ready—now, more than ever—to make phylloxera-resistant cuttings available to the grape growers.

A.T.G. is in the process of propagating rootstock, but in order to have sufficient cuttings available for some 10,000 acres of vineyards; we need to expand our nursery by 30 acres of farmland in the Ararat Valley. There, they could be grafted onto indigenous grape varieties, which finally, would be supplied to the grape growers.

Prior to the expansion of the nursery, our country director, Gagik Mkrchyan is recommending, highly, that we should first fence the 30 acres. This would protect the new seedlings from looters and grazing by nearby livestock. Farm animals destroy vegetation. “Otherwise,” he said, we will have a constant battle on our hands and that will hinder our mission.” Gagik solicited bids for the fencing expenses – cost of labor, material and installation. These expenses alone will amount to about $15,000.

We are urgently asking for your support!

Contributions to A.T.G. are tax-deductible and may be made online or by direct mail to Armenian Technology Group, Inc. P. O. Box 5969 Fresno, CA 93755.

As we stated in 2014, ‘The livelihoods of thousands of already-stressed farm-families in Armenia are at high risk of being ruined. These farmers are the ones who work hard all year long to supply grapes to the centuries-old Armenian wine and cognac (brandy) industries. The income-generating producers and exporters are not only on the verge of environmental, but also economic collapse.’ Our words are more pertinent today than ever.

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