On January 1st, a new law on “Social Assistance to Border Communities” went into effect in Armenia. The measure provides partial subsidies for natural gas, electricity, and irrigation expenses to those living in Armenia’s volatile border regions. However, not all of the country’s borderland communities will be assisted by the law. Only 31 communities are mentioned in the government’s approved list. “We applied to the Ministry of Territorial Administration and they said only those areas that are under heavy shelling will be considered,” says Nune Avakyan, a council member in the village of Gomk. “Never mind that such incidents also occur here. They are just not as publicized.” Gomk is a southern Armenian village located just 6 kilometers from the border. The community is made up mostly of refugees, who resettled in Gomk and began working to rebuild their lives from scratch. The dilapidated infrastructure and remoteness of the community presented countless difficulties and obstacles for the resettling population. But they have not waited for handouts to get back on their feet.
In 2012, with the support of Oxfam in Armenia, local residents came together to establish a women’s agricultural cooperative. After months of mobilization, community forums, and planning meetings, a core group of about 30 women founded the cooperative. They received consultation and training from Oxfam on everything from crop cultivation techniques to marketing and accounting. By their second year, they had a 400 meter squared greenhouse and cold storage facility up and running. Since establishment Oxfam cooperative members have benefited from the micro credits provided by Horizon foundation.
“When we first began promoting the idea of a cooperative, people looked at us like dreamers,” says Nune Avagyan. “But over time, we showed that we can address our own issues. We made residents believe in a brighter future.”
“One of the most important components of Oxfam project is micro credits that are provided to cooperative members without interests. The total amount of the loan to each member is 60 000 AMD. This might seem not a big money, but in reality we are managing a big job with this amount. During agricultural season this amount is essential for most of us”.
Small farmers especially in rural and isolated communities of the distant regions are far from the main agricultural markets (as capital or other big city or a big processing factory) and remains excluded from the agriculture value chain.
“We are using micro credits to buy seeds and seedlings in spring. We can rent a machinery to cultivate our lands. And recently cooperative members come to a joint agreement to use the individual loans to repair cooperative green house drip irrigation system. Decisions in the co-op are made democratically and the profit is distributed equally to all members. So everyone understands the importance of the green house, not only for us but also for the whole village”, said Nune.
“Micro credit component of Oxfam project is very important and valuable for such a small community like Gomk. Due to it each year there is one million and six hundred thousand AMD is invested in the livelihoods of this remote community. This is the huge and very important investment for our village” stated Nune Avagyan, the president of agriculture cooperative in Gomk. “The goal is to not only benefit individual members but, rather, the village as a whole. As such, it is not just a business, it is a social enterprise geared toward uplifting the broader community”.
“When people unite around a common mission,” says Avakyan, “they can create institutions which benefit the masses”