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By Artak Khachatryan, Cornell Humphrey Fellow ‘20
  • Department of Global Development
  • Agriculture
  • Food
  • Global Development
  • Planet
  • Climate
Before coming to Cornell, my understanding of climate change was very limited, especially as it relates to farming. Climate change was rarely part of the conversation in my work as an agriculture program manager in Armenia.

Everything changed when I came to Cornell as a Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship participant. The Humphrey Fellowship Program provides mid-career specialists from developing countries the opportunity to spend a year at Cornell University learning about agriculture and environmental issues. The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is a global leader in these fields, and joining the new Department of Global Development was an exciting opportunity.

Through a Humphrey Program seminar I learned about Dr. Allison Chatrchyan’s work and the role agriculture plays in global climate change. From her I discovered that approximately 24% of carbon dioxide globally is emitted because of agricultural and land use activities, and I was inspired to conduct my own research on the issue. Working with Dr. Chatrchyan, she introduced me to the Cornell Climate Smart Farming Program, which has developed smart agricultural solutions for New York farmers and educates farmers about building resilience to the changing climate.

Cornell offers many incredible learning opportunities, and I soon joined the Global Climate Change Science and Policy class taught by Drs. Chatrchyan and Natalie Mahowald. The course explored a range of national mitigation and adaptation plans from different countries, including my own.  

As a class we researched climate change effects on agriculture in Armenia, and my work experience with the Ministry of Agriculture and the regional farm service centers of the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development Foundation (CARD) provided the undergraduate students with invaluable background and experience. My class group even designed an extension program to aid farmers.

From the class I met Keelin Kelly ’20, a double major in development sociology and environment and sustainability, who as part of her undergraduate honors thesis research project planned to interview Armenia farmers about their climate change views and actions. I introduced Keelin and Dr. Chatrchyan to the CEO of the CARD Foundation via video conference, and CARD subsequently offered to help the research team with logistics. A grant from the Office of Engagement Initiatives covered travel costs for Keelin, and she and Dr. Chatrchyan asked me to join the research team to help facilitate clarity around agricultural and technical concepts and overcome language barriers.

It seemed as if an incredible partnership involving UNDP and CARD in Armenia, the Humphrey Program at Cornell, and the new CALS Department of Global Development had come together at just the right time.

Working with CARD managers, I helped the team organize focus groups in five of the ten regions in Armenia with the highest agricultural production. For two weeks in January we traveled across Armenia to conduct focus group interviews with approximately 50 farmers and service center managers in Pokr Vedi, Yeghnadzor, Artashavan, Azatan and Armavir regions of Armenia where a variety of fruits, grapes, vegetables, wheat, cabbage and potatoes are produced. We also interviewed scientists and policymakers from the Armenian State Agrarian University, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Environment, and the UNDP Armenia’s Climate Change Office.

During the long trips to the service centers, I introduced our Cornell team to Armenia’s beautiful, rugged countryside, and several ancient Christian sites.

The preliminary results from the focus groups indicate Armenian farmers are well aware of the climate change impacts they are experiencing (drought, hail, unpredictable events), and were fearful that increasing climate change would make it impossible to continue farming. Our results led to us to organize the country’s very first workshop on the topic of ‘Climate Smart Agriculture and Climate Change Adaptation in Armenia’. Over 50 representatives of government agencies, NGOs, agricultural specialists, the United Nations, and farmers attended the workshop! Our Cornell team provided presentations on climate smart agriculture, adaptation practices and farmer views on climate change. The participants discussed the vulnerability of the agricultural sector to climate change, and possible adaptation measures and policy changes that were needed.

There is clearly a need for improved information and training about climate adaptation practices. As the result of this project, we found that there is growing interest in Armenia about the topic of Climate Smart Agriculture, and many opportunities to expand global engaged partnerships with Cornell.

Engaged Cornell provided funding for the Global Climate Change Science and Policy Course, and undergraduate travel funds that enabled this project to take place.