Agriculture and the Rural Population
In 1987, the last stable year of Soviet rule in Armenia, the rural population made up 31.5% of the total. This was significantly lower than the 1920s, the beginning of Soviet rule, when Armenia was heavily rural and over 80% of the population resided in villages. By 2020, Armenia’s rural population has increased to 36%, a change that is primarily due to the decline of the country’s urban population (the decline is mostly due to emigration from provincial urban areas). A little over one third of Armenia’s rural population lives in the regions of Ararat and Armavir, which cover most of the fertile Ararat valley.
In the 2011 census, around 37% of Armenia’s employed population (1,057,735) indicated agriculture, forestry and fishing as their occupation (390,248). Almost everyone involved in agriculture is self-employed or is a “contributing family member.” 194,081 men and 196,167 women worked in agriculture, forestry and fishing. Thus, 33% of employed men and almost 42% of employed women worked in agriculture.
89% of those working in agriculture live in rural areas, while 11% live in towns. In rural Armenia, a little over 70% of the working population is engaged in agriculture; while, in urban areas, the figure is close to 8% of the employed population.
In five regions (Gegharkunik, Aragatsotn, Armavir, Ararat and Vayots Dzor), more than 50% of the employed population works in agriculture. In the three northern regions (Tavush, Lori and Shirak), the percentage is between 45% and 50%. In Syunik, only one third of the population works in agriculture; while, in Kotayk, the figure is 28%.
In most regions, agriculture employs more than 70% of the rural population. In Syunik and Tavush, over 60%, and in Kotayk only 44% of rural employed residents work in agriculture.
In some regions, a significant portion of urban workers are engaged in agriculture, forestry and fishing. In Gegharkunik, it stands at almost 35%. 25.5% of the employed urban residents of Tavush, 20% in Ararat and Vayots Dzor, work in agriculture. In contrast, only 3% of Shirak’s working urban residents work in agriculture. In Yerevan, 4,358 people worked in agriculture, forestry and fishing, making up just 1.4% of the capital’s working population.
The share of agriculture, forestry and fishing in Armenia’s GDP has continuously decreased since 2012. Then, it contributed 18.4% to the country’s gross domestic product. By 2019, the number had decreased to 12%.
Agricultural output has also decreased in the past decade. Agriculture, forestry and fishing generated $2 billion in 2014, while in 2019 the output stood at $1.6 billion.
Armenia’s agricultural activity is spread throughout the country, but the Ararat valley holds special significance. In 2019, 36% of Armenia’s agricultural output was generated in the regions of Ararat and Armavir. The three northern regions (Shirak, Lori and Tavush) generated 23%, the two central regions (Aragatsotn and Kotayk) 18%, Gegharkunik, roughly covering the Lake Sevan basin, generated 13%. Syunik and Vayots Dzor, the south of Armenia, generated only 9% of the country’s agricultural output, while Yerevan produced 1% of the country’s total.
Animal husbandry and horticulture (plant growing) contribute almost equally to Armenia’s agricultural output: 52% vs. 48%.
According to the 2014 agricultural census, 54% of Armenia’s 317,000 family farms cultivated land and were involved in animal husbandry. 42% only cultivated land, while 4% was only involved in animal husbandry. There are significant regional differences. In Kotayk, 53% only cultivated land, while in Vayots Dzor only 24% did.
According to the World Bank, Armenia’s total agricultural land amounts to 16,768 sq. km, which comprises 59% of the total land area. Armenia’s total arable land is around 446,400 hectares (4,464 sq. km), comprising some 15.7% of Armenia’s land area.
According to the 2014 agricultural census, the average family farm size in Armenia is only 1.48 hectares (3.66 acres). Armenia’s agricultural land of 513,000 hectares is divided into 345,875 family farms. Around 60% of all family farms have less than 1 hectare of land. 35% have between 1 and 5 hectares and only 5% has more than 5 hectares.
Some 2,740 sq. km of land is equipped for irrigation, but 1,550 sq. km are actually irrigated as of 2017, per the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. According to the 2014 agricultural census, almost half (49%) of all farms are irrigated from the main irrigation network. Around 21% uses drinking water to irrigate their land, 15% rivers and lakes, and 12% wells. In Tavush, around 60% of all farms are irrigated using drinking water, while in Ararat, 31% use wells.
Land for organic agriculture is around 1,430 ha, of which 730 is certified organic.
As of 2019, fields of cereal crops cover 121,179 hectares, fruit and berry orchards cover 43,411 hectares, vegetable (except potato) fields cover 20,616 hectares, while potato fields alone cover 20,477 hectares. Vineyards cover 16,497 hectares, while melon fields cover 4,257 hectares.
Ararat and Armavir (covering most of the Ararat valley) contain around 43% of Armenia’s fruit orchards, over 63% of Armenia’s vegetable (except potato) fields, around 73% of the country’s vineyards and almost 95% of its melon fields.
Over 70% of Armenia’s cereal fields are in Shirak (27.7%), Gegharkunik (18.8%), Aragatsotn (13.7%) and Syunik (11%). Over 70% of Armenia’s potato fields are concentrated in just three regions: Gegharkunik (39.5%), Lori (16.8%) and Shirak (15.8%).
Aragatsoton, Tavush and Vayots Dzor contain 24% of Armenia’s vineyards. Other regions have negligible amounts of land allocated to vineyards. Shirak and Gegharkunik have none.
Armenia’s livestock population consists primarily of poultry, cattle, sheep and honey bees.
The cattle population has fluctuated between 570,000 and 700,000 between 2007 and 2020. As of 2020, Armenia has around 580,000 cattle, with the top cattle-breeding regions being Gegharkunik (97,000), Shirak (87,000), Lori (73,000) and Aragatsotn (68,000). 82% of family farms own less than 9 cattle. 17% own between 10 and 49 cattle, and 1% own more than 50.
In the past 13 years, Armenia’s pig population has fluctuated greatly between a low of just 86,700 to a high of 223,300 in 2020. Pigs are relatively equally distributed among Armenia’s regions, with the top region, Armavir, having 29,400 pigs, and Lori 15,300.
Armenia’s sheep and goat population (combined) has fluctuated between a low of 511,000 to a high of 778,000 in the past decade. In 2020, Armenia has 662,500 sheep. The top sheep-breeding regions are Armavir (114,000), Syunik (108,300), Aragatsotn (91,400), Gegharkunik (91,000) and Ararat (87,900).
Armenia’s chicken stock has fluctuated between 2.65 million in 1993 and 4.74 million in 2004. As of 2020, Armenia’s poultry population stands at 4.57 million. The regions with the most are Armavir (1.25 million), Kotayk (930,000) and Aragatsotn (568,000). Around 54% of Armenia’s poultry is raised by commercial organizations, as opposed to family farms.
As of 2018, Armenia has 236,000 beehives. In the post-Soviet period, the number has fluctuated between 46,000 and 245,000. According to the 2014 agricultural census, Armenia had 164,039 beehives, with the top bee-keeping regions being Syunik (19%), Gegharkunik (15%) and Vayots Dzor (11%).
Armenia’s egg production has increased from 463.7 million in 2006 to 720.6 million in 2019. More than half of the entire production came from three regions: Armavir (24%), Kotayk (19%) and Aragatsotn (11%).
In the past decade, milk production has fluctuated between 600,000 tons and 760,000 tons in 2017. In 2018, Armenia produced 48,000 tons of sheep milk and 4,000 tons of goat milk.
As of 2020, total milk production stands at 667,900 tons. The top milk-producing regions are Gegharkunik (18%), Shirak (15%), Lori (12%) and Aragatsotn (12%). In 2014, Armenia produced 18,320 tons of cheese and 1,093 tons of butter.
In 2018, the country produced 68,800 tons of cattle meat (beef), 16,300 tons of pig meat (pork), 12,300 tons of chicken meat (poultry) and 10,800 tons of sheep meat (mutton).
According to FAO, in 2018, Armenia produced 646,569 tons of fruit, 560,298 tons of vegetables, 415,050 tons of roots and tubers and 334,342 tons of cereals.
The most-produced fruits were grapes (179,668 tons), apples (109,939 tons), apricots (104,035 tons), and peaches and nectarines (52,247 tons).
In 2019, Armenia produced 217,500 tons of grapes. Over 86% were produced in the Armavir and Ararat regions. In the same year, Armenia produced 290,600 tons of fruit (other than grapes). 59% was produced in Armavir and Ararat and another 18% in Aragatsotn.
Armenia’s top vegetable products in 2018 were tomatoes (138,124 tons), watermelons (126,812 tons), cabbages and other brassicas (89,461 tons), cucumbers (50,599 tons), onions (39,279 tons), and carrots and turnips (16,681 tons). Roots and tubers consisted entirely of 415,050 tons of potatoes. Armenia also produced 54,173 tons of sugar beet. In 2019, Armenia produced 621,600 tons of vegetables. Ararat and Armavir regions produced 81% of the total. The same two regions produced over 96% of Armenia’s melons. In the same year, the country produced 404,100 tons of potatoes, 42% of which was from Gegharkunik alone.
In 2018 Armenia produced 187,453 tons of wheat and 124,167 tons of barley. In 2019, Armenia produced 198,800 tons of cereal. The top cereal-producing regions were Shirak (22%), Gegharkunik (16%), Lori (13%), Aragatsotn (12%) and Syunik (12%). Cereal yield per hectare fluctuated between 2,000 and 3,200 kg in the period from 2010 to 2017.
Armenia’s largest agricultural exports are tomatoes (36,039 tons), preserved vegetables (10,114 tons), prepared fruits (9,581 tons), apricots (7,215 tons), grapes (6,536 tons), and peaches and nectarines (5,444 tons).
Armenia imports significantly more than it exports. The top imports include wheat (329,372 tons), corn (67,781 tons), poultry (32,212 tons), wheat flour (29,063 tons), sunflower oil (26,086 tons), bananas (22,474 tons), prepared fruits (16,954 tons) and barley (14,839 tons). Armenia imports almost 1.8 times more wheat than it produces.
Officials and experts have identified several major problems in Armenia’s agriculture sector that hinder its growth. In December 2019, the government held a discussion on problems and prospects of agriculture. The official readout mentioned the following problems of the sector: “low efficiency, insufficient monitoring of food safety standards, high market concentration, poor institutional capacity, and the restricted use of innovations.” To address these problems, the government identified several development principles: “aggregation, commercialization, youth inclusion, diversification and risk management, climate adaptation and technological modernization.”
Speaking at a business forum in Shirak in July 2019, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan argued that low productivity is the main issue facing Armenian agriculture. He noted that, while 30% of Armenia’s labor force works in agriculture, the sector contributes only 14% of the country’s GDP. He argued that the proportion of the labor force engaged in agriculture should continuously decrease (and the number of those working in industry and manufacturing should increase) and noted that his government gives particular importance to the issue of land reform. Pashinyan has also spoken about the importance of promoting the formation of agricultural cooperatives in Armenia.
In a recent article published by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, two fundamental problems were covered. These include small plots and land fragmentation that make agriculture “unfavorable and economically unprofitable,” according to Arman Khojoyan, Armenia’s Deputy Minister of Economy.
As noted above, Armenia’s average farm is only 1.5 hectares, compared to around 3 ha in Cyprus, 6.8 ha in Greece, 10 ha in Poland, 26 hectares in the Netherlands and 86 ha in England. As a rule, small farm sizes result in less efficiency and lower yields, further hindering the acquisition of modern machinery. In fact, for many in Armenia, subsistence agriculture is the norm.
Currently, the government is working on a land reform package. It is expected to be introduced in parliament by the end of 2020. The government wants to lower land fragmentation and put abandoned plots to use again by encouraging their owners to rent them.