A New Epidemic Is at Armenia’s Doorsteps, Says ATG

ATG workers inspect grape vines in Armenia.

YEREVAN—A major agricultural catastrophe is lurking in Armenia. Armenia’s centuries old grape and related industries are in danger of losing their productivity, potentially impacting the livelihood of thousands of families and causing a major loss of export potentials and income to the entire country – reports Fresno, California-based Armenian Technology Group, Inc. (ATG).

Armenia’s Ararat Valley — where the vineyards date back to the biblical times — is infected by the phylloxera nematode, a microscopic louse that attacks the roots of grape vines. The infestation is severely diminishing the grape-root system’s ability to absorb needed water and nutrients to sustain the vine.

“Phylloxera is the nemesis of the grape industry,” said Varoujan Der Simonian, Executive Director of ATG. “Once a vineyard is infected by the louse it can destroy it fairly rapidly, and then spread naturally to others nearby.”

In Ararat Valley, the destructive nematode appeared few years ago, in a small family vineyard. The locals considered it as a single incident, ripped up and burned the vines and thought that would control the disease. However, similar to the Europeans’ in the early 1900’s, their attempt to eradicate the louse failed!

In 2013 phylloxera appeared in another vineyard in Ararat Valley. The field was quarantined to contain the louse, but the attempt had failed as well. As of December 2014 phylloxera has already spread to a 40 mile radius, and infected at least eight different vineyards located in Armavir region. Based on a data obtained from the Ministry of Agriculture in Armenia, It has been identified in vineyards in Aghavnatoun, Arevadem, Aygek, Artamed, Kayi, Norapat, Noraket and Mayisian villages.

If the spread of the disease continues at its current pace, within the next 5 to 10 years farmers in Armenia might lose all their vines, be forced to rip them out and replant their vineyards with new phylloxera-resistant vines.

Importing and propagating plants is prohibited in Armenia without the permission of the Ministry of Agriculture — very much like in other developing countries.

On January 30, Sergio Karapetyan, Ministry of Agriculture announced that “Armenia must develop phylloxera-resistant plants.”

“We are exploring the options with the [Ministry of Agriculture], to prepare the foundation for a phylloxera-resistant grape nursery at a secluded location” said Der Simonian. “It is not possible to clear the fields form the louse. Farmers cannot fight this epidemic alone; we have to supply them with phylloxera-resistant plants to help them rejuvenate their vineyards.”

The livelihoods of thousands of already stressed farm-families in Armenia are at high risk of being ruined. These farmers are the ones who work hard year-long to supply grapes to the centuries-old Armenian wine and cognac [brandy] industries. As a result, these income-generating producers and exporters are also on the verge of not only environmental, but also economic collapse.

During the 19th century Phylloxera infestation become and epidemic throughout France and most of Europe, destroying some two-thirds of the continent’s vineyards, and by 1900’s some 70% of the vines in France were dead –the livelihoods of thousands of families were ruined. The danger is no less in US! In the 1990’s Phylloxera attacked California’s main wine region causing about two thirds of the vineyards in Napa Valley to be replanted. Phylloxera has also devastated many vineyards in Oregon, whose owners had hoped that the louse wouldn’t infest the virgin soils.

ATG is soliciting contributions for this purpose. Tax-deductible contributions could be mailed to ATG P.O. Box 5969, Fresno CA 93755.

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