ArmInfo.The practice of drying fruit in Armenia originated centuries ago. Back in the 5th century BC Greek historian Herodotus mentioned the sun-kissed dried fruit that was transported by Armenian merchants along with wine and other products.
Xenophon of Athens also described the dried fruit that Armenian peasants stored for winter. According to Arkadi Khachikyan, a dried fruit producer in the sun-filled Armavir region, excavations in an ancient Armenian capital of Yervandashat unearthed a handful of dried fruits on the floor of the hunting lodge kitchen of King Yervand. Even fossilised, the dried fruits couldn't be mistaken for anything else. There is no evidence on how dried fruit was produced in ancient Armenia but history shows that it graced the tables of Armenian kings. Centuries later, production of dried fruit remains a common practice in modern Armenia largely due to the passion of local producers and the country’s favourable climate. The climate in the faraway South African Republic is probably not as good for dried fruit production as in Armenia - water scarcity, saline soils, locations distanced too far from consumer markets, none of which, however, stood in the way of successful production and exports of South African dried fruits. Armenian producers on a visit to the South African Republic in March for a study tour were impressed with the expertise and streamlined work of local producers that placed the county in a leading spot in the sector.
Today around 100 types of dried fruit products are exported from the South African Republic to different countries worldwide - all the way from England to Australia. The annual production volume of local companies amounts to 3000-4000 tons of dried fruit and other products made from dried fruit.
During their study tour Armenian producers learned first-hand about the entire production process used in the South African Republic: from cultivation of fruit farms to processing, provision and sale of dried fruit. The study tour was organised within the frames of the Eastern Partnership: Ready to Trade EU4Business initiative. The project is implemented by the International Trade Centre (ITC) with the financial support of the European Union. It helps small and medium-sized enterprises to produce value-added goods in line with international market standards, linking them with buyers from global value chains and markets, in particular within the EU. Armenian producers had a chance to visit farms, factories and retailers, as well as joined different business meetings to explore the best international practices in the sector.
“Having the right farm and the right crop is key in dried fruit production. In the South African Republic this sector is regulated by special laws, for example the producers must use the crop specifically meant for dried fruit production. The variety of fruit is provided by the experiment station where new species are tested. For years different species get tried in production of dried and canned fruit as well as other products till they are proven fit for cultivation. More than 15 years is required for cultivating a single fruit species for dried fruit production. In the South African Republic the whole crop is brought to the same standard in terms of its size, firmness and color,” Ara Marutyan, the founder of Agrolog Educational Production Centre says.
While on tour, Armenian producers gained expert advice on manufacturing internationally and specifically EU competitive products: from obtaining accurate moisture level, extending the shelf life of dried fruits, and producing attractive yet affordable packaging in line with the European standards to a set of marketing tips for sales promotion.
To provide an effective use of resources and ensure diversification, the South African Republic produces an array of products from crops unfit for dried fruit production, such as fruit bars and dried fruit candies used both for domestic consumption and export.
“This tour convinced us even further how important it is to produce dried fruit products in addition to dried fruit itself. We’re already brainstorming that idea,”Ara Khachikyan, head of Sateni company says.
The success of the South African dried fruit producers is also rooted in a solid educational background. Future Masters in Food Production are only given their degree after creating a new food product. Moreover, the degree is awarded after at least 100 people taste and provide positive feedback on the product.
There are special associations that serve as a valuable link between the state and producers. They help producers enhance their capacity in dried fruit production and overall contribute to the advancement of the sector by providing consultancy on fruit species, competitiveness and exports. Associations also provide the state bodies with suggestions on taxation, state support and other issues. Their viability is ensured by its members who pay 21 cents for each kilogram of dried fruit and 10 cents for each kilogram of fresh fruit sold.
To ensure quality products, dried fruit producers in the South African Republic use simple but effective tricks. For instance, sounds of wild birds and gunshots are played through loudspeakers to drive away birds preying on mesh trays with dried fruit. Another key to success is the efficient use of natural resources. Each farm has its own reservoir to collect rain and snowmelt water for irrigation. Peach kernels are used to spruce up garden paths.
Nairi Margaryan, Production Control and External Relations Officer of Ritea Company considers the application of the South African experience in Armenia quite feasible. Lida Devejyan, Deputy Director of Arcolad agrees with Nairi: she believes that cooperation and coordinated work is at the core of success of South African dried fruit producers.
Within the frames of the Eastern Partnership: Ready to Trade EU4Business initiative local producers have participated in leading trade shows in Europe with a goal of establishing new business ties and enhancing their export potential. Thanks to the consultancy of international and local experts many of the project beneficiaries are on their way to obtain HACCP (Hazard analysis and critical control points) certification, which is a valuable business card for accessing European and US markets.
The State Revenue Committee reported 263 tons of dried fruit and vegetables in Armenian exports in 2018; in 2019 this figure almost doubled to 485 tons. According to Tigran Tsaturyan, head of the processing department of the Organic Armenia Association, cultivation of designated farms, introduction of new species of seedlings and improvement of local ones, as well as creating young professional teams and transitioning to organic agriculture will help Armenian producers maintain and improve this growth tendency by making local produce more competitive in the international market.