April 20, 2003 | By: Janet Eaton, Ag. Communications Intern

When he returned to Kentucky after two years of working in Armenia, Craig Infanger was able to look back on an extraordinary accomplishment. While director of the USDA’s ongoing Marketing Assistance Project in Armenia, the University of Kentucky agricultural economist led a team that helped local agribusinesses produce new and more marketable food products.

Infanger said he is proud of the contribution he and others are making in the emerging country. He believes their efforts are having a positive impact. 

“So many projects go in and try to help the farmers produce better crops, better livestock, but that is not going to be effective unless there is a market for these products,” said Infanger, who has spent five of his 29 years with the College of Agriculture on foreign assignments. “This project was successful because we delivered a package of technical, financial and marketing assistance.” 

Armenia is a small land-locked country located between Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan and Georgia. The country, which was the first republic to leave the former Soviet Union, is still transitioning from the soviet collective system of agriculture to private farms. Most of the farms are small subsistence farms comprised of an average of 2 to 3 hectares. Cattle are a staple on most farms.

“A dairy cow (in Armenia) is a miracle of genetic adaptation,” Infanger said. “She is eating brown grass at the end of the summer, she’s pregnant, she is going into the winter stressed, she will survive an unventilated barn being fed straw, throw her calf in February and then hit the ground running when the spring grass comes. It is a miracle that she can do this.” 

The MAP initiative began in Armenia in 1996 and is enjoying continuing success. Over 100 American consultants have completed assignments for MAP. Infanger emphasizes his job as the project’s third director was coordinating technical, financial and marketing assistance to entrepreneurs. The project promotes and nurtures value-added processing, product promotion, export market development and the formation of marketing associations. 

As needs are discovered, the project finds answers. For example, the project supports an equipment-leasing program where large scale processing equipment can be leased. This program circumvents many of the problems with small local banks.

A barrier for start-up entrepreneurs is credit. Credit is available, but loans were for a one-year maximum with a 20 percent interest rate and required 200 percent collateral. The MAP project provides start up for production credit clubs modeled on the U.S. farm credit system allowing businesses to get the money they need to be successful.