Armenia has 486,000 hectares of arable land, about 16 percent of the country's total area. In 1991 Armenia imported about 65 percent of its food. About 10 percent of the work force, which is predominantly urban, is employed in agriculture, which in 1991 provided 25.7 percent of the country's NMP. In 1990 Armenia became the first Soviet republic to pass a land privatization law, and from that time Armenian farmland shifted into the private sector at a faster rate than in any other republic. However, the rapidity and disorganization of land reallocation led to disputes and dissatisfaction among the peasants receiving land. Especially problematic were allocation of water rights and distribution of basic materials and equipment. Related enterprises such as food processing and hothouse operations often remained in state hands, reducing the advantages of private landholding.
By 1992 privatization of the state and collective farms, which had dominated Armenian agriculture in the Soviet period, had put 63 percent of cultivated fields, 80 percent of orchards, and 91 percent of vineyards in the hands of private farmers. The program yielded a 15 percent increase in agricultural output between 1990 and 1991. In 1993 the government ended restrictions on the transfer of private land, a step expected to increase substantially the average size (and hence the efficiency) of private plots. At the end of 1993, an estimated 300,000 small farms (one to five hectares) were operating. In that year, harvests were bountiful despite the high cost of inputs; only the disastrous state of Armenia's transportation infrastructure prevented relief of food shortages in urban centers.
Agriculture is carried out mainly in the valleys and mountainsides of Armenia's uneven terrain, with the highest mountain pastures used for livestock grazing. Fertile volcanic soil allows cultivation of wheat and barley as well as pasturage for sheep, goats, and horses. With the help of irrigation, figs, pomegranates, cotton, apricots, and olives also are grown in the limited subtropical Aras River valley and in the valleys north of Erevan, where the richest farmland is found. Armenia also produces peaches, walnuts, and quince, and its cognac enjoys a worldwide reputation.
Irrigation is required by most crops, and the building of canals and a system of irrigation was among the first major state projects of the Soviet republic in the 1920s. By the 1960s, arable land had been extended by 20 percent, compared with pre-Soviet times. Most farms had electricity by the early 1960s, and machinery was commonplace. In the Soviet era, women made up most of the agricultural work force; a large percentage of the younger men had responded to the Soviet industrialization campaign by migrating to urban centers. In 1989 farms were operating about 13,400 tractors and 1,900 grain and cotton combines.
The principal agricultural products are grains (mostly wheat and barley), potatoes, vegetables, grapes, berries, cotton, sugar beets, tobacco, figs, and olives. In 1989 Armenia produced 200,000 tons of grain, 266,000 tons of potatoes, 485,000 tons of vegetables, 117,000 tons of sugar beets, 170,000 tons of fruit, 119,000 tons of grapes, 105,000 tons of meat, 491,000 tons of milk, and 561,000 tons of eggs.
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