During my visit to Armenia, I met with Anna, YPARD representative for Armenia at her lovely venture, located some 40 km from Yerevan.
Anna leads a socially responsible enterprise that produces dried fruits. She works closely with about 300 families in a region, from whom she buys raw material. Annas business has created 30 workplaces for villagers, especially women, while their husbands are working abroad, mostly in Russia. Anna and I, we both work in the same field - value chain development for small fruit and vegetable producers, it felt like we know each other for a long time, and had a lot to discuss, compare and learn.
Let us share with the YPARD community a brief from our discussion, as it is relevant for other, especially post-soviet countries.
Anna, her ideas and impact on the community
Dried fruits are special delight in many countries, especially Kavkaz mountains and the Middle East, they are consumed daily as a snack together with a tea or coffee and offered to guests.
Anna shows me around her production facilities, where fresh pears, peaches, plums, apricots, apples are turned into dried delights that are possible to store and consume all year round. Some of the sets are produced completely sugar-free and some with added sugar, so that the consumer has a choice. The production process lasts for several weeks. Drying is done in a special glass chamber and uses energy from the sun.
One example of how Anna engages the community is packaging for dried products. She could have outsourced packaging to a factory and it would be cheaper. Anna made a decision that packaging should be done locally in the village, thus is eco-friendly and creates jobs for women, even though it costs more, as it is hand made.
In the discussion on rural development Anna shares that she sees that internal and international tourism is the way to bring more life and jobs to the village.
Together with her partners they have developed a plan for activities and hospitality opportunities, they plan to build eco-hotels on the bank of the river, and they count that the venture will attract young people to the business. There also be a community hub, where people from the community can produce and sell their products to visitors. A portion of the finances for the project Anna plans to attract via a crowdfunding campaign, offering the supporters very nice holiday packages and experience in rural Armenia in return.
Starting dried fruit business requires special knowledge and a set of skills on the subject. Anna is planning to launch a course on dry fruit production, that would teach the villagers and people willing to start such business about production, harvest, sorting, drying, certification, packaging and other nuances of dried fruit business. We have discussed that such a course would be relevant for Ukrainian producers as well. On my side, in the UHBDP project we are planning to launch a course on greenhouse vegetable production and Anna's comment was that it would be useful to Armenian producers as well. We see these courses taking place on-line and materials to be available for a broader public.
From our experience we concluded, that youth needs solid information and support, that awakes interest in agri-business. By solid information, we defined success stories, market information, business plans, production plans. Thus, we discussed to focus more on these topics and share them via the YPARD network.