OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Meline's Garden

Social enterprise rejuvenating agriculture in Armenia to alleviate smallholder farmers from poverty and decrease malnutrition via quinoa.

Photo of Ani Sardaryan
2 2

Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Meline's Garden LLC

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

http://www.melinesgarden.com/

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Yerevan

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

The Republic of Armenia

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Armenia, a country located in the South Caucasus region in Western Asia, covers a total area of 29,743 km^2.

What country is your selected Place located in?

The Republic of Armenia

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Armenia is our homeland and the homeland of 10,000 million Armenians living in the world identify themselves as Armenian. Since our childhood we were inspired by our hardworking grandfathers who created bread from stones and survived through hazards. After the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Armenia declared its independence. The Karabakh war followed the independence and it ended after a Russian-brokered cease-fire put in place in 1994. As it entered the 21st century, Armenia faced many hardships. It has made a full switch to a market economy. 

Nowadays, Armenia is a developing economy. To present the general context, we can assert that poverty in Armenia is alarming. The Global Hunger Index stood at 7.8 in 2019 and, in 2017, 25.7% of the population lives below the national poverty line. Extreme poverty rate is 2.4%. Nearly one third of the extremely poor population are children under 18 years of age, 13% are the elderly and 57% are working age adults. The poverty level among rural population is 36%. We decided to focus on rural poverty where agriculture is the main source of income, and to identify the underlying reasons of this poverty. 

Over the course of 4 years we observed smallholder farmers’ lack operational knowhow and efficiency, identifying niche market products, asset management, access to market, and a flagrant under utilization of arable lands. To illustrate the latter point, we can mention that in 2018, 29% of the arable lands were non-cultivated representing an area of 129 000 hectares. 

Meline’s Garden has the aim to increase efficiency through a standardized farming process increasing yield, revenue, purchasing power to meet basic nutrition and consequentially decreasing rural poverty, malnutrition, food import dependency and increase food security. With cereal imports dependency of nearly 56%, if land utilized was doubled, Armenia could potentially be 80% food secure.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Formerly a Soviet republic, Armenia is now an independent country that lies between Europe and Asia. Armenia is bordered by Turkey, Georgia, the independent Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Iran, Azerbaijan, and Nakhichevan. Yerevan is the capital city of Armenia and is home to some 2 million people.

The climate is typically dry throughout the year. Temperatures can range from -10°C to 40°C.

Agriculture is the main source of economic activity and is a significant contributor to the country’s GDP. At 2017, agriculture produced 14.9 % of the country’s GDP. The agriculture industry employs about 36.6 % (2017) of the working population of whom nearly 56% are female farmers.

Farm structure in Armenia is dominated by a large number of small-scale farms. According to 2014 census data, the 317,346 family farms, which contribute more than 97% of total agricultural output, comprise 99.86% of all active agricultural holdings. 45% of the farms have three or more land plots, and 20% of farms have 5 or more plots. Smallholders constitute the vast majority in the country, representing around 95% of all farms and produce the major part of gross agricultural product, around 97%.

The Government’s strategy is to target further development of agriculture. The strategy is designed to increase food sufficiency and an improvement in living standards for the entire nation. Viticulture and fruit growing are the priority sub-sectors of Armenian agriculture. In terms of agricultural output, fruit, grapevines for viticulture and vegetables are high value crops that serve as ingredients for processed goods, such as wines, spirits, preserves and dried fruits.

With an annual growth rate of less than 1% per annum, the projected population for 2021 is recorded to be 3,078,131. The population are 98% Armenians, 1.2% Kurds and other (0.8%). The majority of the population are Christians (97%). 63% of the people live in urban areas with the remaining 37% living in rural areas.

The median age is 35.6 years with males at 33.9 years and females at a higher age of 37.4 years.

The Armenian cuisine is mainly vegetables, meat, and fish; however, eggplant, lamb, and lavash (flatbread) make up its primary components. In addition, cracked wheat, or bulgur, is often used instead of rice and maize in Armenian cuisine.

The existing diet is not considered to be a healthy diet due to the lack of food availability from the small-scale farmers. Food availability is limited due to the outputs from the farms.

The family social structure is very important to Armenians. Children are highly regarded and are the center of attention in households until they reach adulthood.

Armenia is the ideal place for investment purposes. Due to the existing challenges faced with food shortages in Armenia, this challenge will be exacerbated by 2050 unless investment occurs now. 

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

29743

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

1999962

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

A number of environmental issues still remain critical.Climate change will have an effect on nature.There will be changes in landscape zones shift towards higher altitudes, such as desert and semi-desert area which will expand for 33%,while sub-alpine and alpine zone will be reduced up to 22%. It is expected reduction of river flow, precipitation in continental regions and of agriculture yield,increase of drought rate.

Doctor of Nutrition D. Pipoyan states that the typical historical Armenian diet is a healthy diet as it contained fresh fruits,vegetables,salads,meat.Today, the modern Armenian diet is mono-eating, not healthy. The culture of Armenia is based on the geography,language,faith,literature, architecture,dance,music. Armenian families typically deliver two or three children, their marriages last for a life.Hospitality is a key culture aspect whereby their homes.Armenia is a low-income food deficit country causing a very high level of obesity among adults.17.3% of the population is unemployed and 35.8% lives below the poverty line. 

Technology investment has been limited due to obtaining finance. Food production was based upon traditional farming methods.This challenge will continue until farmers gain access to finance. E-agriculture is an application of information and communication technologies introduced by the government. 

Challenges in 2050: The government strategy to mitigate is to increase forest cover area, reserves and specially protected natural territories. Quinoa is a natural food resource of high nutritive value and is recognized for its genetic diversity,adaptability to different environmental conditions as well as the cultural, socio-economic benefits. Quinoa will act as a food alternative due to what will be a decline in supply availability of livestock, vegetables, herbs and fruit.

Armenia’s population is projected to drop to by 2050.The present challenge of food security will still remain. Mass production of quinoa will need to be planned to allow for communities to flourish.

We believe that the culture will remain identical as it is today.We will still see hospitality as a key cultural aspect with dancing and music being other key cultural activities.

We would like to see farm size to increase with more farmers able to take ownership of their farms.The farms need to be profitable so as to encourage future investment. Mass production of quinoa will place less strain on the economy from having to imported food products.

We see that farmers will be more equipped with the latest machinery and technologies. Farmers will produce better quality crops with hydroponic farming,organic and produce better yields through technology such as irrigation systems.This belief will be dependent on farmers having greater profits and access to finance to afford new equipment and technologies.

The government will need to reshape its policies to provide incentives for farmers to change their existing crop to more resilient crops such as quinoa to be able to meet the food supply requirements.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Our vision is to offer the Armenian community another alternative to the existing food system to balance their dietary intake on a daily basis with planting, production and distribution of quinoa. Quinoa is recommended as an alternate food product. Depending on the impact of climate change in the future upon other food products, we envision that quinoa will become a major food product for the community.

We are striving for this vision for many reasons. The first reason is that the many stakeholders (small-scale farmers,distributors,retailers,the government,the community and MG) will enjoy the benefits of job creation, more profitability, a slighter improved economy and health benefits. The second reason is that quinoa is an adaptable grain due to its fiber content that has many health benefits. Quinoa can be used as an alternative healthy food option that will partially reduce the impact of the monoculture. 

The third reason is that we believe that climate change will impact upon Armenians in the future. Even with the government already taking action to mitigate climate change, Armenia needs to ensure food security systems are in place to provide sufficient food to the community. The government’s commitment to increase the amount of land for forestation may reduce the capacity for farming. It is important to be able to increase the amount of land available for farmers to increase production. At the same time, farmers need to be incentivised to invest into latest technologies and equipment. 

Our vision is achievable through our own expansion across the country plus the use of small-scale farmers to establish a network of dependable farmers who can remain reliable and not overwhelmed. Small-scale farmers will have approximately 6 hectares of quinoa planted. Small-scale farmers will plant and maintain quinoa. After harvesting, they will sell their product to us for packaging and on-selling to distributors and retailers. There is further potential for quinoa to be grown and distributed in bulk to distributors and sold by the ton in a similar manner to existing food products.

Working from the bottom of the pyramid,MG and its contracted small-scale farmers would grow the quinoa crop. The small-scale farmers would sell their quinoa crop to MG. MG will sell the quinoa in two forms –(i) bulk quantity to be sold to distributors and retailers and (ii) packaged product direct to retail and the community via our online website. Distributors would on-sell bulk quinoa to retailers and direct to the Armenian community.

Our vision will partially resolve the challenges raised above. We see that the Armenian culture and dietary habits acceptance of quinoa now is better than waiting for some time in the future. Improved technology and crop production methods in the future will enable the community to be prepared for climate changes. Our values supporting our vision will not allow us to compromise on the quality of quinoa produced.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

We believe that our high-level vision will enable the Armenian community and the economy to be better placed by 2050. Our statement is based upon all stakeholders actively involved in meeting the challenges of today. With the expected decline in the population between now and 2050, we do not believe there will be additional pressure placed upon food supply.

Our vision can be stretched further with the potential of exporting bulk quinoa after excess domestic supply. The Armenian government will need to ensure that sufficient land is available for quinoa crop plantings to meet the demand of the domestic. The government will need to ensure that adequate road and transport infrastructure is in place to cater for bulk quinoa production.Distributors and retailers will enjoy additional profits by taking on quinoa as a food product to distribute to the community. However, due to the predicted changes for the climate,quinoa may act as a replacement for their present profitability.

Small-scale farmers should take advantage of challenges in technology and production methods as a source for producing quality harvests. Training and investment are required to be given to the small-scale farmers. Investment in farming capital equipment will be the greatest challenge.The community can start today to change their dietary and cultural habits. MG has already introduced quinoa to the community in the form of packaged product. We need to get a wider distribution across all community so that people can start to change their habits.By 2050, the community will have truly accepted quinoa as part of their daily lives. We believe that the community will be healthier through the consumption of quinoa with less obese adults.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

There are many food security and sustainability challenges facing the food system. The global population is forecast to exceed 10 billion by 2050, leading to an increasing demand for food and placing further pressure on finite resources. The global population will be weathier and increasingly urban which changes the way food is purchased and marketed (as well as amplifying the social and political consequences of increases in food prices).

On the supply side there will be growing competition for land, energy and water, with the latter being of particular concern as a number of very major aquifers will be exhausted by 2025. Unsustainable food production threatens food security, for example from over-fishing, soil erosion or water shortages. Food production will increasingly be impacted by climate change, in particular from the increased frequency of storms, droughts and other extreme weather events. Food production is in turn a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions as well as water scarcity and wider biodiversity issues. Over consumption and waste further exacerbate these issues by placing unnecessary pressure on the food system, whilst rising obesity rates and diet-related illness are major drivers of ill health in many parts of the world and places increasing strain on health services.

There is no hesitation that the global challenges also effect the food security of a small developing countries as Armenia is. An estimated 16 percent of families were classified as food insecure in 2015 with huge disparities across different population groups and regions, reaching peaks of 24 percent in Shirak and 28 among households with an unemployed head. Food insecurity goes hand in hand with the double burden of child malnutrition.

The 2018 Global Nutrition Report identified the coexistence of two forms of malnutrition, namely overweight and anemia. In order to overcome these challenges we decided to focus on rural poverty where agriculture is the main source of income, and to identify the underlying reasons of this poverty. As Armenia includes more than 2 million hectares of agriculture land, we quickly started our experimentation with smallholder farmers, defined as farmers who cultivate less than 2 hectares per season. We observed their working processes, assessed the way they operate and the problems they encounter, spotting a real lack of efficiency in the overall agricultural ecosystem. The use of traditional methods, monoculture and waste of crops are the norms. This observation has been confirmed over time after direct communication and experimentation with nearly 200 farmers in 6 provinces of Armenia.

Using the above observations, we considered how to work with smallholder farmers and related stakeholders to cause a change in situation. We continued our investigation but this time, we also included nutrition related habits in Armenia. Despite the growth in income and in food availability between 2008-2015, the food consumption pattern of an average Armenian did not show any significant diversification or increase in consumption of more nutritious food items. People’s lack of knowledge regarding their proper daily calorie intakes leads to diseases such as diabetes (12.3%), overweight (56.2%), obesity (19.9%) and stunted growth in children (19.4%).

Hunger and malnutrition are closely related to poverty, as people that live under the poverty line tend to be the most food insecure. From the agricultural perspective, smallholder farmers and direct manual workers are the most affected by the problem and hence, are the ones who are benefiting from our solution. There are 446 000 hectares of arable lands in Armenia, 29% of which are not utilized representing 129 000 hectares. Based on our experience, we can assert that 1 hectare employs on average 1 farmer and 5 manual workers. Consequently, the potential of operating in those non-cultivated lands represents nearly 129 000 additional farmers and 500 000 additional manual workers. From the end consumer perspective, we have been able to improve nutrition intake for nearly 25 000 people and our aim is to reach 125 000 people in the next three years.

This clearly illustrated the lack of healthy nutritional habits and lifestyle. After having brainstormed, ideated and ran several experiments, we developed the idea of creating a virtuous circle, via an inclusive and collaborative model tackling both the issue of rural poverty and malnutrition by growing quinoa. Quinoa is a high value cash crop in the current global market that is adaptable in various climates, takes little resources to grow, and is highly nutritious, which will aid in addressing the end users’ nutrition problem.

Our true knowledge of the needs of the beneficiaries and our capability to link smallholder farmers with the wholesale and retail sector is a real added value. By providing a stable income for the farmers and the villagers and healthy and nutritious food to all the people we are tackling the challenges of the food insecurity and aim to decrease the percentages of the poverty and malnutrition of the Armenian people to minimum by 2050.

Our model includes two ends; agricultural and end user. For the agricultural side, we decided to use quinoa as a vehicle to put in place a standardized system that will increase efficiency in the overall agricultural ecosystem. We sign 2-year-contracts with farmers outlining the responsibilities of each party, provide farmers with quinoa seeds, consult throughout the duration of the contract, commit to buying the crops at a specified rate preseason once the grains pass the State Service for Food Safety of RA analysis certifying the products are ready for human consumption. Packaging is done by hand in our facility solely by individuals with physical disabilities, in line with MG’s objective of social impact. The final step in the process is delivery to our customers who provide to the end user for whom we aim to increase the level of nutrition. We play the role of catalyst by providing the farmers access to market through the MG brand and white label. All financial responsibilities are completed through bank transfers. To date, no other actor in Armenia proceeds this way.

Our innovation lies in the way we have incorporated both rural poverty and malnutrition in our problematic. Our holistic approach allows us to handle both issues. The rise of farmers' interest to increase operational efficiency and access to market reinforce our willingness to extrapolate our model and become a large-scale regional operator into neighboring countries.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Website

2 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Spam
Photo of Ekaterina Egorova
Team

Hi Ani Sardaryan 

We’ve developed this Pocket Guide to support you through the final days of wrapping up your submission.
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1o8WGMus6-V8GywWdlNwmCpk7I1fMVzcQ/view

This will give you the most important bullet points to keep in mind to successfully submit your Vision.

Go ahead, review the check-list and final words of advice before the deadline.

View all comments