YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–A sharp fall in agricultural output resulting from bad weather has inflicted serious damage on farmers across Armenia and led to a dramatic rise in the prices of fruits and vegetables.
A cold snap that hit the country’s fruit-growing Ararat Valley in early March was followed by an usually rainy spring. The Armenian Ministry of Agriculture has forecast that violent rain and hailstorms will slash the 2010 harvest of early-summer crops such as apricots and cherries by at least one third.
Their unprecedented retail prices in Yerevan grocery stores and agricultural markets suggest that the damage may have been even heavier. Apricots, for example, are currently selling for an average of 750 drams ($2) per kilogram, over seven times more than during the same period of last year. The price of sweet cherries has similarly quadrupled year on year, to 800-1,200 drams per kilo.
Heavy rainfalls also delayed the planting of potatoes, tomatoes and other staple vegetables, which have traditionally been cheap in summer months. At 400-500 drams per kilo, tomatoes are now roughly twice as expensive as in July 2009.
Traders at Yerevan’s central agricultural market, many of them farmers, on Wednesday blamed the bad weather for the skyrocketing prices. “The harvest was very poor,” said one woman. “There was little to collect.”
“Last year, I grew 60 tons of water melons from one hectare of land,” explained another farmer selling her produce there. “This year, I’ll get no more than 10-15 tons. Rain has ruined the crop.”
“There is a serious lack of supply,” confirmed Mher Movsisian, the market’s deputy director. “That’s why everything, from green plants to potatoes, is now much more expensive here.”
“I know a village which hasn’t grown a single cherry or apricot this year,” Movsisian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
The slump is also felt by the city residents. For many of them, fruits and vegetables are not affordable anymore. “This year is terrible,” one elderly woman said after buying half a kilo of tomatoes.
“We have cut back on food purchases,” said another buyer.
But some consumers were ready to bear the extra cost of a healthy and delicious summer diet many Armenians have long been accustomed to. “What can we do?” said one of them. “We can’t leave the kids hungry. Whether we like it or not, we have to buy fruits and vegetables.”
The agricultural slump could reflect negatively on Armenia’s macroeconomic performance, which was stronger than anticipated in the first five months of this year. Armenian agricultural output was already essentially flat in January-May 2010, compared with an overall economic growth rate of 8.8 percent reported by the authorities.