The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted and challenged us all. Our Volunteer programs have pivoted to remote assignments and have engaged local volunteers to continue to support farmers, entrepreneurs, and communities in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia (ECCA), where we implement the Farmer-to-Farmer ECCA Program. In Armenia, our Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) team struggled with tight schedules, significant time zone differences, and the physical absence of a U.S. volunteer expert. Local experts have bridged this gap.

Local Expert Equips Women with Enhanced Cheesemaking Techniques

Anush Avakimyan is one such local volunteer. F2F Armenia engaged her to help improve cheese production at the household level. Though rural women in Armenia are well-known cheesemakers, they are often averse to changing their production habits. Many believe that the recipes they inherited from their mothers and grandmothers are the best.

F2F Armenia received a request to support a group of women in the village of Ashnak in Aragatsotn Province to improve cheesemaking techniques and introduce new varieties. The local women enthusiastically welcomed Avakimyan to their kitchens to assess their general sanitary and hygiene conditions. Next, Avakimyan conducted a one-day training for the women, explaining the scientific basis behind the issues she observed. She provided the women with recommendations on avoiding those issues. She then divided the women into smaller groups and made cheese with each of them, providing them hands-on training.

The assignment had three direct results:

  • the participants resolved the premature souring of the milk and the cheese through pasteurization, which led to improved cheese quality
  • the amount of cheese produced from the same amount of milk doubled, leading to increased income generation for the cheesemakers
  • Avakimyan introduced three new cheese types to the cheesemakers, which they now sell for higher prices

Another notable success of Avakimyan’s assignment is that the women learned new tools and ingredients for cheesemaking. With the F2F Armenia coordinator’s help, the women purchased new tools and ingredients from a shop in Yerevan. Another group of women from the same village has also requested this training, which will be implemented in the coming months. The women are considering creating an “umbrella brand” to position their village as a cheesemaking center, contributing to sustainable community development. Avakimyan has already requested a future assignment to share branding and marketing skills to support that initiative.

Learn more about the F2F ECCA Program that we implement in Armenia, Georgia, the Kyrgyz Republic, and Tajikistan here

Learn more about volunteering during the pandemic here