Out to Pasture.

Traveling northeast out of Yerevan to lovely Tsaghkavan, you go first through the arid high mountains, then enter a tunnel and blast out the other side into an entirely different terrain – green, lush, wooded and cool. This is the “Little Switzerland” of Armenia: verdant forests of oak and beech and lush high pastures, where some of Heifer’s most important work is being done.

Remember the premise guiding Heifer’s new strategy? If you can double the productivity of the 650 million smallholder farmers around the world, they will feed themselves… and feed the world. Well, to double the productivity of Armenia’s farmers you need more cows. More healthy, fat cows. And cows like that come from a land with plentiful, fertile pastures.

The reality is, there are plenty of communal pastures in northeastern Armenia – they’re just inaccessible, overused or underused, and chronically mismanaged. So last year, Heifer teamed up with the World Bank and Armenia’s Ministry of Agriculture to start CARMAC (Community Agricultural Resource Management and Competitiveness Project) –and yes, these folks love acronyms as much as we do. CARMAC is a five-year, $23.3 million project that is designed to improve the lives of 24,000 people in 55 mountainous communities by increasing milk production by 17 million gallons/year and increasing meat production by 15 million pounds.

That math would really get Bill Clinton’s heart racing – but what it comes down to is giving rural communities like Tsaghkavan the tools, technology and training so the people can make the most of their animals and land assets and create a sustainable economy.

That’s what we’re talking about.

Each farmer needs about 120 bales of hay to feed each cow through the winter in barley, legumes and hay. In other words, they need productive pastures. Problem is, nobody’s paid much attention to the condition of the pastures, so in Tsaghkavan, the 80-hectare close ones are overused and unproductive, and the 570-hectare remote ones lack electricity, water and are impossible to get to. With CARMAC, each town works to build roads, shelters and watering points so the herders, animals and farm equipment can get to the rich, remote pastures. Trained vets and 10 new regional Ag Support offices improve animal health, provide artificial insemination, donate seeds and tractors and impart modern methods to grow better fodder, and loan coolers and cold storage to each village, so dairy products can be kept safe and fresh. It’s a soup-to-nuts approach and Heifer will provide links with large dairy processors and producers to support the marketing value chain – so all the extra milk being produced can get to market and be sold for a profit.

Tsaghkavan means City of Flowers….soon to be City of Dairy!

It’s a big, bold plan and it’s already is changing the way these towns work—where everything used to be done by hand, man by man. Now the farmers cooperatively employ technology, internet access, and mobile messaging to farm more efficiently. I must be evolving into a true Heifer geek because when I saw the Pasture Management Assessment maps, I was so excited I took about 15 photos of them.

It’s a beautiful, scientific thing …

I love when Heifer thinks big – and this plan is huge, complex and multi-faceted. I love that CARMAC moves far beyond giving a heifer – to planning how the communities can work together to develop a viable dairy business and charge up the economy of the whole region. And I love that it involves sustainably using the land so the pastures will be fertile and productive for years to come, without the use of toxins and pesticides.

Forever and ever …

If that makes me a geek (and I know it does), I’m happy to wear the pocket protector. Bring it!

Categories: Armenia, Farming, Food, Heifer International, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 15 Comments

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15 thoughts on “Out to Pasture.

  1. Rachel Parris

    I really enjoyed this post. Of course I really enjoy each and every one. Thank you.

  2. Didi

    This is great…how beautiful northeastern Armenia is! Your post was a great example of the Heifer work and your enthusiasm was catching…I’m enthused too! You are so lucky!

    • I am so SO lucky, Didi — I never expected Armenia to be so beautiful and it totally captured my heart! (and my stomach)
      I was pretty jazzed to write about this story, esoteric as the concept is, because it shows what the next steps are
      for really moving from individual help to community development — and yeah, it does get my geeky heart going pit-a-pat!! Thanks for the comment, Didi!!

  3. Geek, you are, Betty–as you should be. I think the plan is pretty cool, as well. Bigger is better–at least in this case! Great post, my friend.
    Hugs,
    Kathy

    • Kathryn — I love that your artistic soul knows God is in the details, so thanks for being a geek-enabler!!! Love that you always read and always have a positive comment. You’re the BEST!

  4. Martha Radatz

    I love these stories about the cleverness of Heifer—building roads to access good land to bring home the cows!

  5. The World Bank actually did something helpful ?!

    • Man oh man, you can say that again — I am reading a crucifying book called “Cambodia’s Curse” and what the World Bank
      and all the donor organizations (like the UN) have done there –i.e. shoveling money into the pockets of the kleptocracy
      that runs that country– is just criminal. BUT .. in this case, I think World Bank is doing righteous work. (But it’s a loan,
      not a gift. Just saying…) THANKS Sybil!

  6. Yay for geeking out on things. Those who don’t tend to be pretty boring people anyway!

    • Oh, FF – glad you feel that way! I find myself so caught up in numbers, statistics and history in this venture – I do sometimes feel like I’m becoming Little Miss Number Dropper!! Thanks for the joke, and the relief!!

  7. Oh and by the way, not sure if you’ve already heard, but one of the jokes in this season of The Office mentioned a charity organization they called “Heifers International”. I was like “Wait, are they talking about Betty?” :) You can find it around the 5:15 mark of the second episode.

    • No WAY — i love The Office and I can’t believe they were talking about it — I am so checking this out the minute
      I get home!! (Or better still, I’ll have my Office-obsessed daughter do it for me!)

  8. Awesome! Kids love to milk cows and play with baby cows and give them names! I hope they keep the flowers, too. Around the globe you go…where next???

    • I hope so, too, Kim! Dairy is SUCH a huge part of the cuisine and culture in Armenia .. but now I’m in Vietnam and they never use cows for dairy — in fact, they IMPORT milk although they raise cows. Hmmmm… that’s an opportunity waiting to be seized!!!

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