At the age of 17, Nairi Hakobyan is a walking advertisement for the YANOA (Young Agriculturalists Network of Armenia) program that Heifer is supporting in Armenian schools. With a $100 loan from Heifer (that came after he wrote the first business plan in his 90-member club) Nairi is following in his father’s footsteps and starting his own nursery of 3,000 fruit trees in beautiful Getap, Vayots Dzor Marz in southern Armenia.
Nairi has planted seeds for 2 types of pear, 5 varieties of apple, 3 types of peach, and 2 varieties of apricot trees on 800 square meters of his father’s land and used the rest of the money to buy fertilizers and vaccines to protect his tender plants. After the trees grew to 2 feet, he painstakingly grafted a tiny branch of a cultivar to every slender stalk. (Otherwise, the trees will revert to the wild and produce no fruit).
Nairi’s been working for one year and his 3,000 trees are flourishing but it will take another year before they’re ready to sell. He’s invested $100 of his own money in his business, but when he sells to the local market (his dad is the only other nurseryman in the area, and everyone knows the Hakobyans sell the best trees), he’ll make well over $2,000 (including the $100 loan he repays to another budding YANOA entrepreneur).
That’s a lot of money in rural Armenia – but Nairi has worked his tail off for it, and his plan is to plant more trees and expand onto more land (but first, he’ll have to serve his mandatory 2 years in the military). His father can’t believe the transformation in his son. “I could never get him interested in farming before,” says the tough but proud Aram. “But I’ve seen a big change in him. He’s doing grown-up business-thinking.”
Other young men in the YANOA program have experienced the same entrepreneurial thrill. Narek Gasparyan, an orphan living with his grandparents in Tsaghkavan, was taken under the wing of his high school YANOA mentor, Rabbit Whisperer Iskandar Mehrabyan – and is now raising, breeding and selling 60 rabbits (worth at least $10/each) in the back yard of his home.
His friends Armen and Arsen are doing the same – and the collective knowledge they are gaining transcends the small businesses they are building.
As Nairi’s dad says, “Kids are like sponges. The most exciting thing they’ve gotten from YANOA is knowledge about what it takes to run a business. And they can take that anywhere.”
I’m willing to bet these young men will both stay put (and not have to emigrate to Russia or Iran for employment) and put everything they’ve learned into action to make a good life for themselves and their families.
What a powerful lesson in competence and confidence for these young men in a post-Soviet society. And what an ROI for Heifer – and Armenia!