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The New Landscape of Armenia's Agriculture

March 7, 2012

Irrigation Rehabilitation Emergency Project (IREP) is helping people revive agriculture in the most remote parts of the country, such as the village of Aghavnadsor located in the mountainous region of Vayots Dsor.

World Bank Group

Irrigation is slowly changing the landscape of Armenian agriculture and improving the lives of Armenian farmers. Instead of growing wheat or barley, thousands of the country's small farmers have been planting crops that need more water but ultimately yield more cash. The transformation comes thanks to investments supported by the World Bank over many years in the country's irrigation and water rights systems.

"People started cultivating higher value crops, they established vegetable gardens, vineyards and new orchards," says Misak Metoyan, engineer of the Water Users Association (WUA) in Artashat, Ararat region.

It has been a long and arduous task. A vast system of irrigation that watered giant collective farms regardless of cost in Soviet days now efficiently and for a reasonable price delivers water to hundreds of thousands of small, private plots around the country growing different crops with different water needs.

" We asked the World Bank to work on sections that were in dangerous condition and threatened to leave Ararat Valley without any irrigation water. "

Adibek Ghazaryan

director of the water projects' implementation unit

Achieving this has involved many steps. First, irrigation infrastructure in imminent danger of collapse was fixed.

"We asked the World Bank to work on sections that were in dangerous condition and threatened to leave Ararat Valley without any irrigation water," says Adibek Ghazaryan, director of the water projects' implementation unit (PIU).

Dams in danger of bursting were repaired. So were selected canals and wells in several areas of the country. Some pumping stations were put back in use. And work started on a new legal framework for water management. World Bank investment in this initial phase totaled $ 76 million. "These successes are due to the government's commitment to revive its agriculture sector, as well as the strong partnership between the (World) Bank and other partners, notably the Millenium Challenge Corporation Armenia (MCCA), whose programs reinforced one another."

In a second phase, 27 less decrepit and dangerous dams and their connecting irrigation canals were repaired. , Among the numerous benefits is the safety of over half a million local residents. As a result, reservoirs hold more water and more farmland is irrigated. Forty four water users associations (WUA) were established to insure equal access to irrigation water. Measures were taken to reduce energy and water losses.

The only existing bilateral agreement between Armenia and Turkey involves joint use of Arax River water. In 2003, a new intake facility was built along the canal shunting water to Armenia, almost doubling its share of water used from 27 to 53 cubic meters per second.

With irrigation infrastructure stabilized, a plan for water users and service areas was created, with corresponding, regulated water user companies. Three thousand kilometers of irrigation canals were mapped, as well as 18,000 km of internal canals, 4,000 pumping stations and 2,200 deep and artesian wells.

"This plan shows me whose land this is, its size and location. I can see who the owners are and whether they have a (water) contract or not," says Tigran Ishkhanyan, the PIU water resource management specialist, pointing to an electronic map.

Thanks to streamlining, there are now two state agencies overseeing irrigation networks and systems instead of 13. As a result, water is more efficiently managed and used. Over the years, increased efficiency and transparency has decreased farmers' wariness of the new system and the need to pay for water that once was free.

"In the past, irrigation water fees collected in 15 communities of this sub-region were about 10-15%. In 2011, the company collected 78% in fees," says Ashot Gevorgyan executive director of 'Arax' WUA in Armavir region.

Water users associations currently irrigate almost 130,000 hectares in 600 communities.

Investments have also been made in building new, gravity-fed irrigation systems that do not need pumps and save a lot of money on fuel—almost $ 35 million.As the global financial crisis hit, the World Bank invested emergency funds for renovation of around 90 km of sections of the main Armavir and Talin, helping to create 12,000 temporary jobs. As a result, water losses in two important main canals have reduced from almost 23 percent to 7 percent. That allows 7,000 more hectares to be irrigated.

A follow-up project has already been topped up so that more canals in six provinces can be repaired, encouraging further agricultural development and the possibility of increased incomes for Armenia's farmers.