The declining level of groundwater resources and their uncontrolled use by fisheries have left about 30 communities in Ararat and Armavir regions without a stable supply of drinking and irrigation water.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Coca‑Cola Hellenic Armenia, and the Global Environment Facility's Small Grants Program, implemented by UNDP in Armenia, offered an innovative solution to the problem.
Due to their joint efforts, the Hayanist community's irrigation system has been reconstructed, rehabilitating irrigation of more than 40 hectares of agricultural land. Hayanist is the first village, where irrigation of community land is being carried out using the returning water of nearby fish farms.
Project expert, agronomist-environmentalist by education Naira Yeritsyan, tells how they came to this idea and have managed to implement the first such project in Armenia.
"A few years ago, the issue was raised at the Armenian Development Agency. There was a need to increase the efficiency of the use of fishery water. At that time, we were thinking about closed systems or secondary use of water. We carried out several activities," tells Naira and goes on with mentioning that for the first time Samvel Sahakyan voiced the idea to direct the water from fish farms to the fields and farms.
"Our groundwater is extracted by the pumps, after being used by fish farms it flows into Araks and goes to Turkey. The program proposed by Samvel Sahakyan is unique, because it is economically and environmentally beneficial. As a result, we have water rich in organic fertilizers that is cheaper, better with its physicochemical features, does not cause an environmental problem."
The Environmental Research and Geographical Information Center, which had already managed to carry out several projects in Hayanist, has been selected as an implementing NGO. The co-financing issue has been solved with the support of the USAID.
"This was a pilot program aimed at trying to see if the water flowing out of the fish farms could be reused. As a result, we realized that the program is feasible. In our experimental station, we have planted various crops on 8000 m2 of land. We helped the villagers to cultivate the idle land, provided Armenian sorts of seedlings and seeds. Now we can state that there is a result, which believe me, is not a bad one. Here we plant eggplant, Armenian "Sona" sort of orka, 4 types of tomatoes, sunflower, corn, melon. It's a great harvest," says Naira and suggests tasting their tomatoes.
She emphasizes that before redirecting water to farms, they have carried out number of research, to make sure that there is no dangerous substance in it. Before the beginning of the vegetation period, they had also explored the soil and discovered that it was poor in nitrogen and there was also slightly saline, which was normal in this case, since the soil had not been cultivated for a long time and salt had accumulated in the upper layers.
"Now we will examine the soil, hopefully, the difference will be significant in salinization. We are also going to test the smell and taste that will put an end to the idea that if the land is irrigated by fish farm, the fruit will taste like fish. Trust me, it is not reality. Even the water doesn’t taste," says the specialist.
Now they are going to make specific proposals to the Government trying to solve the problem by legislative regulations.
"In my opinion, tax privileges can be offered to fish farms to encourage directing their water to the fields," she says noting that this is only one of the possible solutions. "It is possible to find international donors and attract investors".