Underpriced Lamb and Wool

Author: Argam Yeranosyan

Edition: Agriculture

The bans on exports of lamb and mutton in Armenia have made Yazidi shepherds, the leaders in the sphere, suffer from the consequences of surplus.

Aragats, the highest mountain in Armenia, where Yazidi shepherds make camp. Located 3000 meters above sea level, the area is good for farming and has very few sheep. However, from May to September Yazidis, an ethnic minority in Armenia, move through the area with their flocks. Sheep breeding is the main livelihood for most members of the Yazidi community.

From 2009-2011, an estimated 150,000 sheep were exported from Armenia to Iran. After the economic hardship of the 90s, the sudden boom in demand for sheep encouraged sheep breeders to export with little concern for the sustainability of their flocks. As a result, mutton and lamb in Armenia became increasingly scarce and expensive. The Armenian government was forced to issue a ban on the export of young lambs in order to stabilize the sheep population.

Officials report that Armenia has 746,000 sheep and goats as of 2015 – an increase of 28,000 animals since the last report. The country produces 19,000 tons of mutton annually, and exported 7,900 sheep worth $441,000 this year alone. However, it is estimated that the country has the potential to export as many as 200,000 sheep per year.

1.Villagers from nearly 20 Armenian and Yazidi villages in the Aparan region sell their cattle in the “Alagyaz bazaar” on the Yerevan-Vanadzor highway.
One sheep in the Alagyaz bazaar sells for 20,000 drams (around $40).
Winter comes early for those who live in the mountainous areas of the Aragats Valley, so villagers often sell their sheep to farmers in the lowlands who will be able to graze the sheep until mid-December.
After selling most of their sheep to Iran in 2010, some villagers in Shenkan became migrant workers. Most people in the small village, however, are farmers.
Yazidis are commonly thought of as having a sort of monopoly on sheep breeding in the region. In recent years, this has started changing as more Yazidis, like those in Rya-Taza, are switching to cattle.
22-year old Leyla waiting for her lambs.
Leyla’s main source of income comes from cattle farming. She sells the milk from the cows to a factory in Shenkan village. In the autumn, when cows produce less milk, she has more time to tend to sheep as well.

“The more sheep you had, the richer you were.” Yazidis in Alagyaz, a small village in western Armenia, have traditionally used sheep as a way to measure a person’s wealth. Now the village is changing as more and more villagers who want to avoid the hard work that comes with shepherding are switching to cattle.

Murad, a sheepheard from Rya-Taza, thinks of his profession as more than just a source of income. Even though he sometimes struggles to sell all of the meat he produces, he loves sheep herding and continues to expand his flock.
After sheep are bought in the villages, they are resold near Yerevan with resellers earning 5-10,000 AMD (around $10-20) per sheep. 1 kg of mutton then sells for 2200-2500 AMD (around $4-5).
Prices for homemade sheep cheese range from 1000-1300 AMD (around $2-2.50) in the Malatia market in Yerevan.
Because of the difficulties with processing wool, most people just burn it. 1kg wool in the Malatia market costs 2500 AMD (around $5).

During the Soviet period, sheep breeding was one of the most developed agricultural activities in Armenia. By the 1970s, the number of sheep in Armenia was estimated to be over 2 million. The economic and political turmoil of the 1990s hit the industry hard, and the numbers of sheep have dropped dramatically.

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