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by Pietro Turilli 

Armenia is a small country located between Georgia in the north and Iran to the South.   After gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Armenia has faced a lot of difficulties including a plunging economy and an armed conflict with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno Karabakh region. A cease fire was reached in 1994 and things began to stabilize.  
After several years of double-digit economic growth, Armenia, like a majority of countries worldwide, had to face the global economic recession of 2008. Armenia’s GDP declined 15% in 2009 and the proportion of Armenians living in poverty reached 28.4%. 

In addition, about 50 percent of poor people live in rural areas. The unemployment rate is particularly high in these areas, and the main source of income here is horticulture and animal husbandry.

We visited Lernagog village in Armavir region to learn more about ongoing projects which have provided some 130 families with dairy cows. The village lost its sole employer when the local mill closed at the end of the Soviet era, and most families remain without regular income and are trapped by the lack of economic opportunities. One family in particular, the Avetisyan family, received one pregnant heifer. After the birth, they now benefit from about 10 liters of milk per day, which they consume in the form of fresh milk, cheese and yogurt. The family has four children who now have improved nutrition in their diet.
Our team also visited projects in the Arpi and Areni villages in the Vayotz Dzor region.  The Melkonyans are a family of 6.  As is the case with many families here, the Melkonyans are unemployed and the only source of income is their son’s temporary construction work. The family has received one pregnant heifer in 2008 and now is going to pass on its first offspring in the fall of 2011. From the cow, they consume fresh milk, cheese and yogurt for all the members of the family. Sometimes they have a little extra and manage to sell some milk or cheese to generate extra income.

But where do we go from here? The Avetisyans -- and many other families we met with in Armenia -- want to move beyond subsistence farming and create income opportunities through the sale of milk to the local milk collection centre. For this, they need to increase their stock of dairy cows, improve barn and milking facilities and enhance their technical knowledge.

Heifer Armenia is now developing follow-up initiatives to link families to markets. In the immediate case of the Lernagog community, the team is developing a partnership with one of the main milk processing enterprises in the country. Heifer will provide access to additional animals and technical assistance, while the enterprise will collect milk from the families supported by Heifer. The end result will be families with a regular source of income, with an enterprise that is able to continue growing sustainably through the provision of locally-produced milk.

Why is this important? Heifer works with with poor families to build their capacities and link them to sustainable markets. We call this moving along the poverty continuum, and it empowers these families to go from not having enough to eat to being able to support themselves.

This means people, families and communities that are no longer poor.

Pietro Turilli is vice president for Central and Eastern Europe programs at Heifer International. He was accompanied on his recent project visits by Cathy Sanders, vice president of philanthropy, and Paul Yeghiayan, associate director of philanthropy.


Casey Neese