In Armenia, hope grows in greenhouses

Sep 30, 2016

Marietta has three children. But her childhood was very different from theirs. She had to leave school after finishing eighth grade, as her family could not afford it. At 22 she met Armen, who would later become her husband. Throughout 13 years of marriage, they’ve had to face many hardships, which has only strengthened their partnership.

Marietta and Armen now live in Voskevan with his parents. The region is marked by high levels of poverty and migration. Between Armen’s disability allowance and the retirement pensions of his parents, making a living has been challenging. Even if jobs were available, the young mother of three wouldn’t have the time: she has to manage the household mostly on her own due to Armen’s visual impairment.

Despite all odds, Marietta and Armen aren’t considering leaving the village for better wages, as many others do, and have turned down invitations of many relatives living abroad. They have instead turned to a more surprising source of income: greenhouse farming.

Marietta was one of nine women who applied to receive a 135 m2 energy-efficient greenhouse in the first half of 2016. With support from UNDP’s Integrated Support to Rural Development: Building Resilient Communities initiative, funded by the Government of the Russian Federation, five of the women, Marietta among them, are now in charge of fully operated greenhouses.

Economically empowering Armenia’s women has been an integral part of UNDP’s community development projects over the past 10 years. Inequality in income between men and women is highly prevalent, with women earning 36 percent less than men. Moreover, fewer women are employed (54 percent) than men (73 percent). Women-headed households face a higher poverty risk.

By promoting greenhouse farming in disadvantaged regions, UNDP is aiming to tackle gender inequalities while generating livelihoods. By the end of the project, 90 greeenhouses will be provided to women and men farmers in the Tavush region, with one of the goals being to economically empower rural women.

“It’s much easier to grow vegetables in the controlled conditions of the greenhouse,” Marietta explains, “because it is protected against the weather, allows for clean farming, and allows us to earn a higher income due to off-season farming and the opportunity to grow high-value crops.” The greenhouses also solve the problem of scarcity or inaccessibility of agricultural land in the community and women’s limited access to agricultural inputs. The greenhouse came with high quality seeds and Marietta received a practical training on greenhouse cultivation.

When the tomatoes and bell peppers are ripe, Marietta sells them at the local shop. Her daughters safeguard the notebook where they keep the record of their sales and earnings. With a few weeks left before the start of the school year, the girls plan to go shopping to get new stationary and clothes.

Meanwhile, Marietta looks forward to the off-season sale, when the price for vegetables will rise and she can sell in bigger quantities. "Now", she says, "I feel more assured that our children will get an education”. She also hopes that in the near future they will manage to get their own house. “I don’t even think about leaving Voskevan. I cannot imagine leaving my greenhouse", she says. "It makes me believe that we can provide a better future for our children. It gives me hope".

As Marietta speaks, the girls run carefree among the tall rows of bell pepper and tomato plants. It is a reminder of how far this family has come.

 

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