Sustainable Development and Poverty Alleviation: M4M Project Supports Dried Fruit Production in Meghri Region

Sustainable development is an essential objective for policy makers around the globe, whether tasked with leading a fully industrialized country or grappling with the challenges faced by developing countries. Efforts to deal with some of the major issues of the world that have loomed over the past few decades such as water and sanitation and poverty have generally failed. In more recent times, it has been recognized that resolution of poverty problems really only succeed if the people requiring assistance are directly and fully embraced in the existing market systems, along with the approaches and mechanisms to turn systemic changes or transactional changes into system or transformational changes.

Markets for Meghri (M4M) project uses the Making Markets Work for the Poor (M4P) approach which is aimed to poverty reduction by integrating subsistence into input and output markets. The central idea is that the poor are dependent on market systems for their livelihoods. Therefore changing those market systems to work more effectively and sustainably for the poor will improve their livelihoods and consequently reduce poverty. More accessible and competitive markets enable poor people to find their own way out of poverty by providing more real choices and opportunities. People living in the rural peripheries, particularly in the developing countries, have been deprived for too long from participating in the opportunities and benefits of economic growth.

The target region of the M4M project is Meghri which is nearly 400 km far from the capital city of Yerevan and separated by four high mountain passes making the region particularly remote from the main economic centers and markets. Meanwhile, this region has a high potential to provide a substantial portion of fresh and processed subtropical fruits produced in Armenia, in particular this region has great potential in getting involved in value added activities and producing dried fruits.

Dried food production is a centuries-old tradition on the Armenian territories, and, related with that, there are approximately 5,500 producers of dried food all over the country. Majority are not legal entities, but households, who have inherited the tradition of drying fruits and vegetables from their ancestors[1]. Therefore, they have more of an individual, rather than a collective approach. Today dried fruits markets are quantity-conscious, but still none of the producers, particularly in Meghri region can continuously provide the demanded volumes. According to good characteristics of fruits which are caused first of all by the geographical position of Meghri region, its natural-climate conditions, abundance of sunlight, and other important factors dried fruits production can become the most essential part for the region’s economic development. There are some competitive advantages in dried fruit production[2]:

adding value: raw fruits often have little economic value, especially during the harvest time when prices are low. By drying and processing fruits producers can add value, sell at a higher price and get greater profit;
lower weight: comparing with fresh fruits, dried fruits are 2-5 times lighter in weight and dimensions and volumes, the share of transportation cost in market price of fresh fruits is for several times higher than the same share for dried fruits;
transferable and lifelong skills: drying fruits is not expensive; it is a simple and universal process;
long lasting: dried fruits can last for years if stored correctly, which means that producers can store it and sell it out of season.
Taking into account the above listed facts and the fact that Meghri region is a remote area about 400 km far from the main and high value market, the M4M project at the beginning of its implementation stage has intended to enhance the development of dried fruits production in the region. The main idea is to attain sustainable economic growth by unleashing under-utilized productivity potentials in order to help poor people to grow out of the poverty trap. This strategy should support the growth of a sector by encouraging entrepreneurial initiatives, improving access to capacity building opportunities and improving access to high value markets via establishing relevant value chain (VC) governance.

Already in April, Markets for Meghri (M4M) team, in cooperation with the Small and Medium Enterprise Development National Center (SME DNC) and the USAID Enterprise Development Market Competitiveness (EDMC) project, hosted Mr. Ruggero Malossi, an experienced dried food expert with over 25 years of experience in the production, processing and packaging of food and beverages, to conduct Training for Trainers in Yerevan for M4M team and two lead-farmers from Meghri-Mr. Ishkhan Aslanyan and Ms. Siranush Qaryan. The main topics of the training were HACCP, modern drying technologies, international standards for dried fruits, packaging and labeling. After this ToT a seminar-discussion was organized in Meghri for those dried fruit producers who showed an interest. In August already trained lead farmers from Meghri Ms. Siranush Qaryan and Mr. Ishkhan Aslanyan, with the support of the project, organized four training sessions in various communities of Meghri region for more than 35 farmers.

Upon the end of the trainings, an experience exchange tour to the one of the most famous area for dried fruit production of Armenia-Yervandashat was organized for seven farmers (home-based dried fruit producers) from Meghri region. The exchange tour was designed to promote networking of dried fruit producers from the mentioned regions, foster exchange of information and knowledge, find linkages for further cooperation and establish a mutual business environment.

“We are ready to cooperate with our Meghri colleagues and share our 15 years of experience. Meghri region has a high potential to provide a substantial portion of high quality dried fruits with a supreme taste. Moreover, figs and persimmons of this region can increase the variety of our products. Meghri dried fruit producers can process the fruits while we will package and export them”, said the Director of Yervandashat Cooperative Mr. Arkadi Khachikyan.

Ms. Siranush Qaryan one of the trained trainers from Meghri mentioned: “I am very thankful to the project, as it provided us with the opportunity to get to know the complete fruit drying process. In order to produce high quality dried fruit one must begin with the selection of appropriate sort variety, an adequate cultivation, on-time harvesting, sorting and storing facilities, logistics issues etc. Every detail is of a great importance. We have learned a lot as all of these processes were demonstrated to us in Yervandashat with all details”.

Siranush is a home-based dried fruits producer from Meghri. A large number of women in Meghri are mainly engaged in home-based food production activities, which sometimes are the only source of income. Women in Meghri and in Armenian society generally, assume multi-faceted roles, i.e. as breadwinner of a family, unpaid family worker, service providers in the communities and mother/care-taker of the family. Because of the existing gender disparities in education, employment opportunities and decision-making power, the poverty level of women is worse than that of men in the region: according to survey conducted by “Shen” in 2010, only 39% of women have paid work, while this number for men is 63%.[3] Business opportunities are not created by external intervention-they arise from markets and entrepreneurial capabilities. Thus the main issue for the M4M project is to enable rural, particularly women entrepreneurs to take advantage of the given market opportunities. This process then can support them to increase income, to overcome the poverty tap and in a period of time to help these start-uppers to become an important part of the value chain via fair distribution of income along VC operators and penetrating new and high value markets. The first steps have been already done by the project. The project has so far provided comprehensive trainings, including coaching in production, business management and marketing for a number of farmers in the region. By facilitating farmers’ access to particular tools and skills and more economic opportunities and then monitor and evaluate their progress, the project will enable these farmers to set and achieve their business objectives and to assure their sustainable development. Thanks to the project a small quantity of naturally dried fruits from Meghri has been packed, labeled and already exported to Switzerland and Russian Federation for tasting. M4M project will continuously support to this initiation in order to make these transactional changes done in the sphere to turn into the system or transformational changes thus to secure the sustainable development for dried fruit production in the region.

[1] Assessment of the Armenian Dried Fruit and Vegetable Chain, BSC Business Support Center LLC, 2012

[2] Assessment of the Armenian Dried Fruit and Vegetable Chain, BSC Business Support Center LLC, 2012

[3] Livelihoods Assessment Report, 2010, Meghri Region, “Shen” NGO