The Promise of Armenia

The conventional attitude in Armenian development today is one of patient exasperation at best, and despondent desperation at worst. While Yerevan continues its meteoric rise towards first world status, a mere five kilometers out of town and one is brought back to the reality of modern Armenia. By the time one reaches the border regions, the transformation is complete. The laundry list of obstacles to development is as daunting as it is well known. Apathy, corruption, poverty, and a powerful drain of young talent to Yerevan and abroad are just the first few of many. In the face of such challenges, even the most well intentioned are likely to throw up their hands in despair. But what is too often overlooked is the exceptional potential of rural Armenia. While many so called "developing" nations are starting from relative zero, Armenia boasts a solid education system, extant if aging infrastructure, and not so distant culture of prosperity and modernization. It is possible to take advantage of these potentialities by using innovative development strategies. The most promising of these strategies is leapfrog development. Instead of installing outdated technologies and development models in an attempt to bring Armenia towards modern economic levels, rural Armenia is in a unique position to enter directly into the most cutting edge production methods in certain sectors. Perhaps the strongest example is in agriculture. Like most developing countries, the Armenian agricultural system has few sunk costs, low levels of pesticide and fertilizer use, and few industrial farms. Unlike most developing countries, Armenia has the infrastructure and education levels to establish a leading organic and sustainable agriculture industry–all without disturbing the demographics of rural communities. Similar opportunities are available in the areas of artisanal food processing and cultural recreation. Opportunities in the latter two have been barely explored, while organic agriculture, virtually not at all. The way forward is not complicated, or even revolutionary. It merely requires a paradigm shift away from outdated third world development models towards a tailored approach that takes advantage of Armenia’s unique strengths. Starting with organic/sustainable agriculture provides immediate results for those who need it most. Instead of dooming Armenia to permanent second or even third class status, the opportunity is there to make it a leader in a rapidly expanding innovative industry. Rud Hubbard is a Peace Corps volunteer serving in Ijevan, Armenia. For more information on the organic agriculture in rural Armenia, visit www.greentavush.org.

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