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Climbing Concern for the Caucasus Climate

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Posted on Jun 21, 2013
jonny2love (CC BY 2.0)

By Kieran Cooke, Climate News Network

This piece first appeared at Climate News Network.

THE ARARAT VALLEY, ARMENIA—It happened as Tigran Gasparian and his family were having lunch.  A massive black cloud turned day to night in minutes. Then the hail hammered on the roof.

“It was deafening”, says Tigran.  “I’ve never seen anything like it. The winds swirled around – like a tornado.  It went on for 45 minutes. At the end the hail was falling in big pieces like bits of broken glass. We knew all our crops had been destroyed.”

Farmers here have heard talk of climate change: many say the summers – when temperatures can reach near to 40C – are becoming hotter while winters are getting colder.

“Maybe the climate is changing” says Anoosh, Gasparian’s wife. “Or maybe the hail was sent by God as punishment for the way our country is chopping down its forests and destroying its landscape.”

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Armenia, a small country in the South Caucasus region with a population of a little over three million, is highly dependent on its agriculture and is famous for its fruits and herbs.  Agriculture accounts for about 20% of gross domestic product.

Cut to shreds

Most of the country’s 340,000 farms are relatively small with plots of one hectare or less: there is little spare cash to fall back on when crops fail.

“Our apricots, peaches, watermelons, and tomatoes were cut to shreds ” says Tigran. “Usually we’d harvest about 35 tonnes of grapes – this year we’ll be lucky if we have 50 kilos.”

The Gasparian land is in the Ararat Valley, about an hour and a half’s drive from Yerevan, Armenia’s capital. Sitting under the shade of cherry trees – a cuckoo calling in the distance and the snow capped peak of Mount Ararat in Turkey on the horizon – it is, in many ways, a perfect pastoral scene.

But life here is tough. Produce has to be taken along badly potholed roads to the capital. Armenia, till 1991, was part of the old Soviet Union. For many farmers, adjusting to a market economy has not been easy. Many are leaving the land: both the Gasparian’s sons – now in their twenties – are going soon to jobs in Russia.

“With our crops destroyed, there is nothing for us here” says one.


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