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On 14 July, a second buckwheat processing factory was opened in the border community of Bavra in Shirak marz. The ‘Nor Hatik’ factory is part of the European Neighbourhood Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development (ENPARD) ‘Producer Group and Value Chain Development’ project.

DSC_3607ENPARD is funded by the European Union (€2.4 million) and Austrian Development Agency (€1 million). The three-year project was launched in Armenia in January 2015 with the aim to support sustainable agriculture in the country. The project’s governmental partner is the Armenian Ministry of Agriculture. The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) are implementing ‘ENPARD Armenia Technical Assistance: Producer Group and Value Chain Development’ project working with 53 primary producer and processing cooperatives. UNIDO and UNDP work together to strengthen and establish producer groups and engage them effectively in value chain addition.
In 2016, primary producer cooperatives were provided with buckwheat seeds and fertilisers, and the processing cooperatives were provided with buckwheat processing factories. As a result, 520 hectares of buckwheat were planted, with an average of 1.2 tonnes of buckwheat harvested per hectare. Now farmers can process their harvests at the processing cooperatives for sale and thereby increase incomes. Local and international experts have provided farmers with training on how to sow buckwheat, fertilisation, harvesting, storage processing, buckwheat-related beekeeping, and honey production.
551 farmers from 67 communities have been involved in 33 cooperatives across Shirak, Lori, Aragatsotn, Kotayk and Gegharkunik marzes to provide buckwheat to factories in Bavra (Shirak marz) and Tsovagyugh (Gegharkunik marz). The construction of Nor Hatik has been financed by the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund. It brings together 28 cooperatives from Shirak, Lori and Aragatsotn marzes. Soon, buckwheat from Nor Hatik will enter the Armenian market.

DSC_3572Representatives from partner organisations were present at Nor Hatik’s opening event and participated in the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Armenian Deputy Minister of Agriculture Armen Harutyunyan congratulated all the partners: ‘It is an important day not only for the cooperatives that have gathered due to this factory, but for Armenian agriculture as a whole. I remember two years ago we started discussions on ENPARD, on which directions we would focus. We prioritised two directions: promotion of cooperatives and the development of alternative crops that could bring higher profitability. Now we have solid results which offer motivation for the next steps’.

DSC_3657Head of Nor Hatik cooperative and buckwheat-processing factory Koryun Smbulyan thanked all the partners: ‘I am thankful that so many people have gathered to congratulate us. We have 15 years of buckwheat processing experience, but we achieved this only as we have so many partners. We have had a good harvest, have great facilities, which means we can enter the market with a quality product’.

Simplified procedures, reduced waiting times, modern infrastructure and equipment, improved security – these are only a few of the many advantages that the new border-crossing point (BCP) in Bagratashen will provide to ordinary citizens of Armenia and tourists travelling from Armenia to Georgia.
14937437_1149055855148342_5298925730231118127_nThe official opening of the newly constructed Bagratashen border checkpoint took place on 4 November 2016, attended by a variety of representatives from state border management bodies, international organisations, and members of the diplomatic corps and media. Key attendees included Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, a delegation headed by the Prime Minister of Georgia, Giorgi Kvirikashvili, Head of Cooperation Section of the European Union Delegation in Armenia Hoa-Binh Adjemian and Head of the Regional Representation of the European Investment Bank (EIB) in the South Caucasus Sebastiaen Husson de Sampigny, UN Permanent Coordinator in Armenia and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Permanent Representative in Armenia Bradley Busetto. This ceremony was organised through the EU-funded and UNDP-implemented “Modernisation of Bagratashen, Bavra and Gogavan Border Crossing Points of Armenia” (MBBG) project. After the opening, participants toured the facility.
The main objective of this EU-supported MBBG project has been to promote free movement of people and goods across the border, ensuring border security, improving bilateral and regional cooperation, and modernising the three checkpoints at Bagratashen, Bavra and Gogavan. This modernisation has been in accordance with the requirements of Armenian law, international standards and principles, as well as the principles of comprehensive border administration.
14947825_1149054925148435_7735196230274237844_nAdjemian spoke about EU border-management projects: ‘The European Union funds numerous inter-related programmes at all Armenian border posts with Georgia and Iran. We support the creation of an e-governance single window, finance physical and IT infrastructure, provide training, and ensure best practice exchange. Today, we are witnessing the impact of the European Union’s cooperation efforts in Bagratashen. Armenian citizens can now cross this border point in a faster, more secure and more efficient manner. Trade has been facilitated and will support further economic and social development, thus benefiting Armenian citizens and the entire region’.
De Sampigny commented on the EIB’s involvement in infrastructure in the region: ‘EIB supports, as the EU bank, the Armenian government’s key priority of fostering the development of crossing points between Armenia and Georgia, such as Bagratashen, to comply with increased demand for smoother flows of people, vehicles and goods in terms of quality and capacity. This new, modern infrastructure will have positive implications in the standards of everyday life of citizens, will increase security, and will improve trade across the whole region’.
BCP modernisation is expected to raise the living standards of local populations in the shorter term, i.e. through jobs created by construction, and also in the longer term, i.e. jobs to permanently man the checkpoints and other cross-border economic activities. BCP modernisation will also address additional issues surrounding communication and transportation.

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Potential gains from updated BCPs are not limited to business alone. The ability to move across borders freely and easily, and to engage in small-scale cross-border trade is vitally important to local border communities, increasing livelihood opportunities and access to services. The EU and UNDP have worked together to ensure modern and streamlined procedures and trained 700 border officials in search techniques, profiling, dealing with refugees, and fighting drug trafficking.
The EU’s affiliate European Investment Bank (EIB) has extended a 30.8 million Euro loan to the Government of Armenia for financing of the project, which was complemented by a 17.6 million Euro grant from the European Union.

Integrated border management is vital for the expansion of Armenia’s economic, trade, and cultural ties with the countries of the region. It also can manage and control the flow of travellers efficiently while protecting their rights fully. The European Union is supporting Armenia to modernise northern border crossings in Bagratashen, Bavra and Gogavan, as well as to renovate nearby roads. Now it’s time to move to the Southern border of Armenia and modernise border crossings with Iran.
On 3 October 2016, the International Centre for Migration Policy Development and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) signed a project cooperation agreement to implement the “Support to Migration and Border Management in Armenia (MIBMA)” project. MIMBA is fully funded by the European Union.
ars_5217‘The EU wants Armenia to be better connected to the outside world for many reasons, not just economically or culturally, but also politically. A more prosperous Armenia, and indeed EU, is one connected to its neighbours. This project involves a non-Eastern partnership country, Iran. After investing in northern Armenia we now believe that, with current political developments, it’s important to move south, improve the border crossings in Meghri, and increase traffic between Armenia and Iran. We believe that this is a good opportunity not only for Armenia, but also for Iran’, – highlighted Head of the EU Delegation to Armenia, Ambassador Piotr Świtalski.
Bradley Busetto, UN Resident Coordinator/UNDP Resident Representative in Armenia, reinforced UNDP’s commitment to regional connectivity: ‘UNDP has worked extensively on infrastructure upgrades, on sharing knowledge and expertise in transparency, accountability and integrity, as well as in trade facilitation. Together with our partners, we will build on these results and continue supporting Armenia’s efforts in this area’.
The overall budget of the 3-year MIBMA project is approximately €4 million. UNDP, as a project partner will lead the implementation of the border management component with a price tag of EUR 880,000 to be spent before the end of 2017.

The EU remains a steadfast supporter of the Armenia’s sustainable agricultural development. The largest of the EU funded projects in this sector is ENPARD, a three-year programme implemented by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, the UN Industrial Development Organisation, and the UN Development Programme.
ENPARD’s third stakeholder meeting took place on 27 September 2016, aiming to present and discuss the project’s recent developments and achievements.
120x200 rollup mapAs part of the project, 51 training courses on business-orientated cooperation have been delivered in 122 communities across all marzes of Armenia, involving 667 participants, of which 227 are women. Training courses on cooperative establishment and business skills development have been organised for 41 primary production groups (more than 600 farmers), which later received support to develop their own business plans. 34 buckwheat production groups, 4 groups of non-traditional vegetable production, 6 high-value cheese cooperatives and 6 dried fruit and herb cooperatives have received support from the project in the form of agricultural inputs, greenhouses, drip irrigation systems, equipment, and assets. 2 buckwheat hulling factories are being constructed and will soon begin operations in Tsovagyugh and Bavra. By the end of year 2, primary fruit production groups will receive agricultural machinery; 1 group of berry producers will be provided with berry saplings and a drip irrigation system.
“Agriculture is not a thing that can be done in two seconds. Agriculture is people, agriculture is families, communities that need our help. Within this project we have already established cooperatives, cultivated new products and brought them to market – this is just the beginning”, – said John Barker, International Aid/Cooperation Officer of the Cooperation Section of the EU Delegation to Armenia.
The newly appointed Armenian Minister of Agriculture, Ignati Arakelyan, spoke about agricultural legislation: ‘Within ENPARD we have not only established cooperatives – a big added value success for farmers – but also have introduced legislation on cooperatives. However, we must continue to take steps and create conditions to strengthen and develop cooperation among farmers so they continue to create successful cooperatives’.
Deputy Minister of Agriculture Armen Harutyunyan stated that ENPARD would be continued, and that there was already a preliminary agreement with the European Union to start a new €10 million project in 2017. Another EU-funded project co-funded by the Austrian Development Agency is also ongoing, targeted at developing organic agriculture in Armenia.

Modern superheroes do not wear tight pants and flamboyant mantles, they do not bend steel or read minds; they tackle poverty, fight for equal health access, and keep people healthy by crowdfunding for safe drinking water. These passionate change-makers consider social responsibility as part of their mission, and come to the rescue of those in need.

Trendy innovation

Innovation in general has become one of the main drivers of economic growth, particularly for developing countries, where entrepreneurship ecosystems are still growing.
Every day thousands of great ideas are born out of social needs in the minds of these ordinary heroes. Some of those “what if” ideas grow into novel mega-ideas and bring global social change.
Social innovation, a trendy word recently stumbled upon by millennials, brings novel solutions to issues, or improves the existing solutions by finding more people-centered, effective, and sustainable approaches. Social innovation addresses social needs of all kinds ranging from community development to health. The key point of social innovation is to enhance individual entrepreneurial capacity for actions that benefit society through dialogue between citizens and state. This is aimed at increasing the quality of government services in correspondence with the core needs of citizens and for social development. This in turn, is aimed at breaking down the apathy towards a one-sided road of policy-making process. Thus, the formula of entrepreneurial ventures for modern-day social entrepreneurs and innovators goes beyond the traditional profit orthodoxy.

What about Armenia?
Armenia, a South Caucasus country with GDP of $ 10.561 billion, has been continuously supporting policies that sustain innovation. On the one hand, these are proactive government policies, such as OGP/Armenia Action Plan commitments that not only tend to make the government more transparent and accountable to the citizens, but also allow direct citizen engagement in public policy via crowdsourcing and voicing the most pressing issues in social life. Reforms and initiatives including e-governance and e-taxation as well as the tax exemption bill for newly established tech startups in Armenia all add value to the development of innovative infrastructure.
On the other hand, Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, as well as other big cities, such as Gyumri and Vanadzor, are currently undergoing transformations with tendency to turn Armenia into a modern regional high-tech hub. Additionally, R&D centers, startup incubators and accelerators, co-working spaces, and techno-parks, along with more business-oriented VC firms and seed funds encourage collaboration and foster an innovative startup ecosystem.
A vibrant innovation system is constantly evolving: several success stories on the international scene contribute to a remarkable increase of enthusiasm and passion to address different kinds of challenges through new models.

#Inno4health: Finding Armenia’s healthcare heroes

UNDP Armenia’s Kolba Lab is a local venture incubator that carries out idea incubation from citizens, public awareness activities, and public sector engagement.
In January 2016, Kolba Lab asked people to select the most interesting topic for the upcoming social innovation camp. Crowdsourcing results revealed healthcare and education to be the most interesting and important sectors in need for innovation according to voters. Not surprisingly these sectors scored 7% and 6% respectively in full trust from society according to the Caucasus Barometer.
As a result health was selected as the main theme for the Social Innovation Camp 2016. Since an e-health system will be implemented in Armenia in two years’ time, the main goal of the Innovation for Health (#inno4health) project was to gather people from different walks of life to develop bottom-up tech solutions for local health issues.
By the end of the camp, five ideas were brought about by innovative superheroes to provide affordable health care services with emphasis on inclusive participation of hospitals, physicians, and policymakers. Three winning ideas will have the chance to enter Kolba Lab’s incubation cycle and receive seed funding from the European Union.
#Inno4health popularises the practice of blending social impact and for-profit business agendas and encourages entrepreneurship. However, it is the people who have ideas that matter. Entrepreneur Nolan Bushnell mentions that “everyone who has ever taken a shower has had an idea. It’s the person who gets out of the shower, dries off, and does something about it that makes a difference.” People who make that social difference are the heroes of our time.

The launch event of the new “Innovation for development” project took place on 2 February 2016. The project is funded by the European Union and is being implemented by the UNDP office in Armenia. The project was launched by introducing the first ever “Public Sector Innovation Week” in Armenia, which included a conference in TEDx format, “Kolba cafe” meetings, and workshops for high-level public servants.
The Head of the EU Delegation to Armenia, Ambassador Piotr Świtalski, talked about the importance of such initiatives: ‘I am very happy that the EU is associated with this kind of innovative development. The future is about innovation and know-how. The best future for Armenia will come through innovation. Armenia has quite limited natural resources, has a difficult geopolitical situation, so let’s use the talent of people, and their brains. The EU promotes and supports innovation in Armenia through various projects, covering sectors such as economic development, research, education, and e-governance. To ensure that innovation participates in transforming the Armenian administration, it is important to foster bottom-up approaches and encourage new ideas in policy making. Therefore, this project has been devised to encourage the practical engagement of citizens and public sector for effective and efficient governance’.
Bradley Busetto, the UN Resident Coordinator/UNDP Resident Representative in Armenia, laid out the project’s aspirations: ‘Innovation for development will unleash innovators across society. From classrooms to hospitals, and up to municipal and government offices, this project will provide a platform for anyone who thinks they have a solution to help Armenia reach its development potential’.
The philosophy of the project is citizen centered, as it gives citizens a key role in policy development and implementation. The cooperation of two major organisations will allow them to develop new mechanisms for citizen participation and introduce open government innovations in Armenia. The project will have three strategic directions: idea incubation from citizens, public awareness activities, and public sector engagement.
In Armenia and the rest of the world there is a need to increase citizen engagement in decision-making processes. A series of open competitions will be held to delegate the problem solving process of social issues to citizens in Armenia, thereby encouraging participatory approach and assessment. Each citizen will have the opportunity to suggest solutions, and the best ones will be given an incubation period and initial financial support.
Competitions for ideas will also take place within government to encourage and develop new, more effective procedures, open government solutions, and communication tools. As a result of the project, the concept for an Open Governance Centre will be created to promote and develop participatory approaches to public services.