Agriculture Ministry Sees Role Changed to Steering Farmers

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Armenian agriculture ministry says it has succeeded in bringing its role and structure into conformity with the existing realities in the country’s agricultural sector–based on the private ownership of land.

The state’s main task now is to engage in a "long-term agricultural planning" and offer "consulting services" to farmers through its "regional scientific centers" that will be set up soon–Agriculture Minister Vladimir Movsisian told a news conference on Tuesday.

Movsisian said the government plans to privatize the remaining 120,000 hectares of state-owned agricultural land.

Most of the agricultural land in Armenia was privatized in 1991. But a fledgling market infrastructure and lack of machines have severely restricted the volume of agricultural output.

Movsisian said the government will continue to address farmers’ problems with irrigation. He said his ministry will encourage banks to lend more to the agricultural sector at lower interest rates.

Movsisian also touched upon the controversial privatization of the Yerevan brandy factory–reiterating the government’s view that the deal is beneficial for the Armenian agriculture as well.

The factory’s new owner–France’s Pernod Ricard group–has embarked on large-scale purchases of local grape paying villagers in cash. Movsisian said the privatized company has already paid $5.8 million to buy 27,000 tons of grape–60 percent more than last year.

The brandy deal has been harshly criticized by the Armenian opposition which last week lacked a few votes in parliament to revoke it.

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