COAF's Economic Development programs support rural economic growth and stimulation. Improved infrastructure is a critical prerequisite for economic development. Providing farmers with better access to irrigation networks has proven to increase agricultural development. Empowering rural businesses through provision of essential skills, knowledge and resources and identification of competitive advantages helps advance the primary goal of organizing local economic development interventions.
Providing alternative financing options for start-ups and existing local businesses is another key component of COAF's economic development interventions. In this respect, COAF's partnership with Cascade Credit in 2009 was instrumental in facilitating the disbursement of nearly $1,000,000 in small to medium-sized business loans.
Four programmatic directions of our economic development include:
COAF works closely with the US-based crowd funding organization FA Microloans, offering zero-interest microcredit loans to low-income borrowers. Local businesses involved with fruit-drying, lavash bread baking and flour processing have benefited from the program, allowing them to expand their businesses and upgrade their facilities.
COAF's Entrepreneurship Training and Practice for Youth (ETPY) program was launched in 2012 for high school students throughout beneficiary villages. The aim of the program is to expose youth to the basics of local economic development, leadership skills and civic education.
The first phase of the program involves 2-week business trainings and market research. This is followed by the creation of student teams in each of the village communities and developing program proposals. Each village team proposes and implements two community development projects impacting their daily lives over a specified period of time. These include improvements to school grounds and tree planting, establishment of bus stops and street signs, a public park with playground, a library, installation of lockers and more.
Continued collaboration with the Levon Galchyan Arts and Crafts Studio enables dozens of children to acquire skills and craftsmanship working with silver, ceramics and furniture building.
COAF's Economic Development program emphasizes increased access to information and markets to help with modernization and increased sales. Through a partnership with VISTAA Plus, a series of agricultural trainings on high-value crops and irrigation water management were held, providing up-to-date knowledge and skills to dozens of farmers in beneficiary villages. In cooperation with the ACDI/VOCA Farmer-to-Farmer project, on-the-job consultancies and in-classroom trainings were provided by an international expert to small and middle-size rural cheese producers.
Another strategic partnership has been formed with the Microsoft Innovation Center (MIC), with COAF rolling out the E-agro platform to beneficiary villages. E-agro is a web-based marketplace for agriculture commodities, accessible by mobile phones and PCs, which allows selling and buying agro products from any location in Armenia and serves as a meeting place for all stakeholders – sellers, buyers and service providers. Since beneficiary farmers often are uncomfortable using technology for general marketing purposes, COAF coordinators offer assistance by registering them in the system and explaining its uses.
Agriculture is central to Armenia’s economy, yet many farmers simply regard it as a means for getting by and do not take into consideration the potential for maximal revenue generation. Many lack access to fertile land or irrigation water and are unaware of the latest farming technologies or financing options. COAF is committed to introducing farmers to ways in which they can generate more income by better planning and managing their farms with newly acquired skills, technology and financing. Installation and renovation of irrigation water pipeline networks is an ongoing endeavor which enables farmers to maximize their output of crops. This in turn has contributed greatly to creating an informal inter-village network among farmers who benefit from one another on many levels.
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