Green Lane NGO Monetizes Organic Farming For Women Agronomists

When Green Lane Agricultural Assistance (Green Lane) NGO launched in 2004 by agronomist Dr. Nune Sarukhanyan, “green” farming was a new concept in Armenia. Now, after having pioneered participatory approaches to rural development with over 100 completed projects, “green” farming is practiced by mostly women farmers, and has become a common practice across the three-million populated country that borders Iran, Georgia, Turkey and Azerbaijan.       

Supported by agricultural cooperatives, specialists, scientists, farmer groups, and individual farmers, Green Lane’s capacity-building strengthens rural women’s role in environmental protection, sustainable natural resource management, and agricultural practices. It has inspired rural women’s councils, environmental education groups, and field schools across the country and its border towns.

“The inspiration behind Green Lane NGO was to serve farmers, women’s groups, cooperatives, farmer field schools, and local research groups operating throughout Armenia and to provide ‘green farming’ consultancy. Besides green farming, our NGO deals with environmental issues….that’s why we named it Green Lane, like a pure path,” says Sarukhanyan who holds a PhD in Agricultural Sciences from the Vegetables and Technical Crops Research Center and has put into practice related research center courses. Her research and initiatives have earned her Switzerland’s Women’s World Summit Foundation Prize for Women’s Creativity in Rural Life, Female Hero of Agricultural Product from Armenia’s Ministry of Agriculture and a Gold Medal for Agricultural Achievements. Her teachings and research in Biofarm models, agricultural research and economic empowerment of rural women have included those with the USDA, International Agricultural Center in Wageningen, Netherlands as well as in Romania and Lebanon.

With a staff of 15 and 17 contractors, Green Lane NGO organizes projects for its 500 members and 3,000 farmers–a great majority of them have large families, low-income, live in rural areas and are unable to afford membership fees but remain as beneficiaries. Since the government doesn’t support NGOs, initial funding came from USDA’s Marketing Assistance Project (MAP) which assists Armenian farmers and agribusinesses in producing, marketing, and exporting food and related products to increase incomes, create jobs, and raise the standard of living. The NGO continues to generate funds through multiple short- and long-term projects and its annual membership fees–$20 for local farmers and $100 for member organizations engaged in agriculture and processing, and those members living abroad.

 “We help the future generations transfer their backyards into sustainable plots by implementing our projects,” says Sarukhanyan. “They fight diseases and maintain a healthy lifestyle while earning an income.”

Armenia has over two million acres of land–but only 480,000 acres are arable. While average farm plots are a little over an acre, the government has plans for a land reform package, encouraging owners of abandoned plots to rent out their land. Armenia’s rural population increased to 36% in 2020–primarily with the country’s urban population decline, mostly due to emigration from provincial urban areas. 

Sarukhanyan and her team encourage their beneficiaries to expand cultivation areas, share their experience with neighboring communities, and by expanding the concept, reduce population migrations in search of job opportunities.   

Empowering Women Agronomists

“Our many years’ experience shows that women have a higher interest in agricultural projects than men. Nearly 65% of our beneficiaries are women and girls–and increasing amongst the agricultural specialists across Armenia,” Sarukhanyan says women are key participants of safe agriculture–organic, sustainable, biodynamic, smart farming. “In addition to earning an income, they are most concerned about sustaining their family, community, and their environment.” 

Last year, Green Lane NGO provided grants to 15 women farmer groups to establish their small businesses within the framework of Economic Empowerment of Rural Women Groups through Capacity Building, supported by UN Women Fund for Gender Equality. It created a new endeavor called “Green Village” which operates a small market at the NGO’s Green Training Center

Through the UNDP-supported “Women’s Economic Empowerment” in Shirak and Gegharkunik –north-western and eastern regions respectively–the NGO provided small grants to 200 women to improve their farming practices. Some 45 women used the funds to establish businesses in the region–and another 132 women became self-employed farmers.

During the recent decade, women have played an invaluable role in Armenia’s agricultural prosperity, especially in cultivating berries, herbs, and spices. We support farmers through the entire process from planting to the market,” says Sarukhanyan. “Women are getting inspired more, especially when they are involved in cultivating high-value crops including non-traditional ones, such as kale, artichoke, asparagus, leek, rhubarb, physalis, kohlrabi, broccoli, bok choy, chives, berries, and more.”

Improving the livelihoods of small farmers through capacity building and sustainable economic structures, Green Lane NGO has created intensive orchards and berry plots in school backyards in Kotayk and Lori–central and northern regions. Last August it launched Digital Caucasus–Synergies and Digital Transformation of SMEs for Smart Economic Growth in the Caucasus, with partner organization CENN (Caucasus Environmental NGO Network). In 2019, with support from EU, CENN, and Kakheti Regional Development Foundation (KRDF), it launched EU4Youth: Social Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Development for Green Growth for Armenia’s bordering communities. Its programs are supported in part by such NGOs as Democracy Today, private companies, state and educational institutions and many international organizations among them the UN Women’s Gender Equality Fund, UNHCR, UN WFP, Sign of Hope.

Paving A Green Path Festival Across Rural Armenia

For the last six years, Green Lane’s Harvest Festival of Rural Life has brought together farmer groups, farmers, cooperatives, women’s groups, youth and local entrepreneurs from Armenia, Lebanon, Iran, and Georgia. Last year’s two-day Festival was held in a rural setting, ending the tradition of hosting it at Armenia’s capital city, Yerevan. The Festival was part of the Green Week, held at the NGO’s Green Training Center in Dzoraghbyur village and included training on green farming, rural tourism, and success stories by beneficiaries.

“The purpose of the festival is to support all farmers. Participants increase every year. Farmers present traditional craft works, along with homemade food, fresh, dried and processed agricultural products. The Festival is a unique platform for farmers, producers and buyers, processors, various organizations and potential donors to meet, find new markets, exchange experiences and start new collaborations,” Sarukhanyan says the Festival’s cultural diversity reflects its participating foreign organizations and individuals.

The NGO’s Green Training Centers employ 30 professional agriculture and environmental sustainability trainers providing programs and tools on successful organic farming. Over 10,000 trained farmers, graduates and specialists practice their knowledge in their farms, helping their communities replicate their models. Over 100 high-value, traditional crops are being cultivated on the Center’s demo plots as an example of how to generate more income from small plots through proper cultivation.

“Our Center is shaping Armenia’s agro culture. The cultivation technology of our trained farmers entirely differs from other farmers,” Sarukhanyan says farmers who were their early adopters, continue to be beneficiaries. “We assist our farmers by selling their products both online and offline through our Green Center Markets. Our Green Village brand helps over 15 women groups to market and sell their agricultural products. Our Centers are fully equipped and furnished to host event participants and accommodate stays by guests interested in learning about organic, sustainable, and smart farming practices.”

Green Training Centers are planned to open across the country and even in the disputed, war-torn region of Artsakh, says Sarukhanyan. The Centers have hosted trainees, representatives from local, international organizations, individuals and student groups from European university study tours. In cooperation with the Armenian Volunteer Corps, interns from the U.S. and other countries have worked at the Centers.

“We dream to establish a genetic bank of agro-biodiversity to gather all varieties and assortments that are under cultivation and have an Armenian origin,” Sarukhanyan explains how each year multiple assortments are lost due to hybrids and imported varieties. “We wish to restore several forgotten plants that our great grandfathers used, as well as other similar crazy ideas.”