YEREVAN -- Armenia has received nearly 1,000 tons of "elite" grain seeds from Russia needed for a government plan to nearly triple wheat production in four years, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.
According to government statistics, the mountainous country of three million produces only one-third of its consumption needs of some 650,000 tons of wheat each year.
Armenian wheat output has steadily declined in recent years, with many local farmers switching to other crops due to poor yields and the modest income generated by wheat.
The Agriculture Ministry estimates that the total area of the country's grain fields has shrunk by roughly one-third, to 80,000 hectares, since 2004.
The government pledged to reverse this trend with a four-year program it approved in July. It aims to raise annual wheat production to around 350,000 tons by 2014 mainly through the purchase of high-yield seeds and their distribution to farmers and agricultural firms.
The government allocated 558 million drams ($1.5 million) for that purpose this year. It hopes that higher yields will motivate many village farmers to revert to grain farming.
Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian, Agriculture Minister Gerasim Alaverdian, and other government officials inspected the first consignment of seeds imported from southern Russian at a railway station in Yerevan on October 1.
Alaverdian said his ministry will mainly distribute them to about 100 large landowners and agricultural firms that grow seeds.
"We decided to give the first batch of seeds to those entities that are able to engage in seed reproduction and give us good results in the future," he told journalists.
Under the government program, recipients of these seeds will pay for them after their harvest. The program envisages phasing out "elite" seed imports by 2014.
"Starting from 2014, we will provide our farmers with quality seeds fully produced in Armenia," Alaverdian said.