Economics

Ararat “desert”

Only thorn bushes grow on saline soil in Armavir region

Who is considered lucky in Zartonk?

Agriculturally used lands of Zartonk village gradually turn into saline harsh desert. Only 320 out of 1700 hectares of once arable lands are suitable for cultivation.

Naziryans family owns a half-a-hectare land plot, but only one the fifth part of it is cultivated. The soil surface is covered by salt and not a single crop can grows on it. According to the family members, the soil capacity continuously reduces and soon the time will come, when it will be senseless to cultivate the land.

Having no sources of subsistence, many villagers had to cover their land plots with a new vegetable mold. According to Agafion, one of Zartonk village residents, they had to transport hundreds of lorries of top soil from a neighboring village to get at least 30 centimeter fertile soil layer. As a result, they will have a chance to cultivate only melons, water melons and gourds.

Zartonk residents have split up into two camps – lucky and unlucky people. The villagers envy each other and refer to the owners of non-saline land plots as lucky souls.

For example, Tamar Atoyan is not interested who cultivates land in Zartonk. The only thing she knows is that her land is not suitable for agricultural works. She is indignant with it. She has leased 2 ha of land in the neighboring Masis district to provide for her family. Tamar grows nurse plants, that will be taken to her land plot in Masis, where she will cultivate water melons. Many Zartonk residents follow her suite.

How does the soil become saline

In some lowlands of the Ararat Valley, the underground waters from time to time seep up onto the soil surface: the water vapors and the salt, it contains, covers the land. These periodically repeated phenomena increase salt content in the soil to such an extent, that the vegetation vanishes. Reduction of the ground waters level and desalination through soil washing is the only method to preventing soil salinity.

Following collapse of the Soviet Union, the system of prevention and fight against soil salinity also fell apart.

In soviet times, there was a serious fight against this phenomenon. First of all, the underground water level was reduced and the land was desalinated using chemical agents, as well as through soil washing.

In early 90s, nobody was dealing with that issue and 1750 ha desalinated area was affected by salt for the second time, depriving the villagers of approximately 50 ha area annually. The open-out and closed drainage systems, reducing the underground water level, that Armenia inherited from the soviet times, were no longer functioning.

What drainage is and what problems it can solve

The drainage system is used to reduce the underground waters level. There were open-out and closed drainage systems in Armenia.

A closed drainage system represents holed metal pipes laid at 3-4 meter depth. Underground waters accumulating in them run to a pumping station and are used for irrigation.

The open-out drainage system solves the same problem without application of pipes buried in the ground. Up to 4 meter deep drainage ditches are dug up and underground waters run through them to the pumping station.

The closed drainage system could not be restored, as it had not been used for a long time. As for open-out drainages, they were gradually put into operation.

Salinity threat in Armavir region has been reduced, but a fate of almost 5000 ha of saline land still remains unresolved.

The Naziryan family tried to desalinate half of their land area through soil washing, but they failed to follow through. A year after frequent irrigation they realized that independent irrigation was an overwhelming task, because of high tariffs for irrigation water, since that process took at least 3-4 years.

Zartonk village administration followed the same scenario. They tried to irrigate 3ha land plot at the expense of the village reserve fund. The result was satisfactory, but a tangible outcome could not be achieved on 1380 ha land area with the community’s budget amounting to AMD35 million (a little bit more than US$70 thousand). According to Paruyr Sargsyan, the village headman, favorable conditions have been already provided for soil desalination and the real results can be achieved in case the state covers the irrigation costs.

Ajoyan, a secretary of Zartonk village administration, notes that the state allocates huge amounts for maintenance of the drainage systems despite the fact that they actually are inoperable at all. If those funds are used for subsidizing irrigation, there will be more tangible effect.

Arthur Ayvazyan, a chief agronomist, also stresses the urgent need for soil desalination. Armavir regional administration annually raises this issue before the government. According to Ayvazyan, desalination must be performed at several village plots at once, since smaller desalinated land plots will become unusable again within a short period of time.
Other villages of Armavir region – Yegegnut, Artashat, Arazap and Arevik, are facing the same problems.

The minister is aware

Aramayis Grigoryan, the Minister of Nature Protection, visited the region in 2015 and personally got familiar with the problem. He met with the community leadership and assured that the soil desalination problem was in the government’s focus. In his words, a special program was elaborated for resolution of this problem. A year has passed but there is no news on the program.

Having lost a hope for the state’s assistance, the farmers lease land plots in neighboring villages. Meanwhile, the only tractor driver in Zartonk village does not hasten to repair his tractor before the beginning of spring works, as there are almost no land plots for farming.

Hrachya, a tractor driver, recalls that there were many people, willing to use his services last year. However, now, there is no need for his equipment, since part of the villagers have covered their land plots with the vegetable mold. So, there is no need to cultivate the land. Some other villagers’ plots have been salt-affected and turned into the desert.

In Agafion’s opinion, in Zartonk, the agriculture has become a kind of hobby, rather than an income source. Here people cultivate salt-resistant crops – corn, sorgo and hop-clover (medicago). Regrettably, there is little demand on them at the market and they bring no profit. In other words, that will hardly help to provide for the family.

First published: 15.03.2016

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Angela Stepanyan, Armavir

Photo and video: Angela Stepanyan 01 January 2017 - 09:38

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