US Pedal Pushers Gear up to Advance ATG Agrotourism Efforts in Armenia

FRESNO–Six Armenia’s from the United States will leave for Armenia and Mountainous Karabagh Republic on August 20 to bike through the country sides as a part of the Armenian Technology Group’s (ATG) effort to promote agrotourism there.

The Fresno–California based ATG was formed in 1989 to assist the Armenian people to become self-sufficient in food production. Much of its work has revolved around the seed multiplication program–which aims to make high-quality seeds available to Armenian grain farmers. ATG agronomists in Armenia have spent the last few years developing seed varieties that will yield the highest possible output with the least amount of agricultural inputs and expense. In addition–ATG efforts to adapt and maintain harvesting equipment have allowed Armenian farmers to reap significantly larger crops.

ATG’s executive director–Varoujan Der Simonian said that the recent effort was launched when Vatche Soghomonian embarked on a marathon bicycle ride last year that took him nearly 700 kilometers across the mountains and plains of Armenia. The ride played a critical role in raising the funds to purchase four milk-cooling tanks to serve as storage for rural farmers–allowing their surplus milk to be kept fresh and to be sold to dairy processors.

This year–ATG hopes that media coverage of the Bike-a-Thon will bring rural Armenia into the spotlight–showing the great potential of the countryside. The concept of agrotourism is a direct expansion of ecotourism–which encourages visitors to experience agricultural life first hand–and aims to improve the life of farmers.

In 1999–Soghomonian rode from Stepanakert to Yerevan to give a jump-start to the ATG-proposed grape nursery in Khramort–a village in Karabagh ravaged by war. ATG estimates that every dollar invested in the nursery increases local income 14-fold. Fifty-three families are now employed by the nursery–and hundreds of acres of vineyards in Karabagh are being rejuvenated yearly with young–disease-free grapevines.

This year’s Bike-a-Thon has the specific goal of raising the funds needed to train professional veterinarians who will work with the Central Diagnostic Lab to help increase farm production and income– ensure that milk and dairy products are safe for consumption. The purpose of the Lab is to ensure that Armenia’s rural farming operations can minimize the spread of a wide range of diseases including as tuberculosis–brucellosis–salmonella–anthrax and ecoli. "Rural economic development in Armenia is vital to the future of the country. We sincerely appreciate those who participate in helping us attain our mutual goal," said Der Simonian.

Soghomonian–who led the first two cycling events and recently qualified for the Tour de France–will lead the other riders from Yerevan–then peddle towards Khor Virab–and then on to Noravank. They will then journey to Yeghegnatsor and through Areni wine country–stopping to have a taste of Armenia’s wines. The tour will continue to Sisian–and then Goris–followed by a stop at Khapan–and onward to Meghri. The bikers will pass through Karabagh–visiting Shushi and Stepanakert. They will visit the ATG wine grape nursery in Khramort–funded by diaspora Armenia’s–and ride to the ancient Gantzasar monastery. The tour will then climb from Yeghegnatsor to Martuni–and along Lake Sevan–then continuing on to Oshagan– Sardarabad–and finally visit Echmiadzin before returning to Yerevan.

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