Micropilot project on clean energy in Solak community of Kotayk province, Armenia
The overall objective is to promote healthier lifestyles and power agri-food value chain by developing sustainable business models and encouraging young specialists to jointly-build capacities with Armenian rural communities.
Accomplishments and feedback: Armenian Women for Health and Healthy Environment and the Energy Centre, University of Chile collaborate and with two other universities in Armenia (National Polytechnic University and : Armenian National Agrarian University) collaborate on the project of Encouraging young specialists to power the agri-food value chains and building sustainable business model to tackle these challenges through supporting communities in having healthier lifestyles and power agri-food value chain. This project is a direct response to Armenia's over-dependence on imported fuels, which creates security of supply risks as well as affordability problems for farmers. The agricultural community of Solak relies on natural gas as its primary fuel source, with many poor farmers using wood or manure for heating and cooking. Solar energy use in agriculture is limited to fruit drying. Students from the local university worked jointly with the Solak pilot community to seek and introduce various clean energy solutions along the agri-food chains. Sergey Avetisov, student at National Polytechnic University notes: "Participation in the project gave us an opportunity to understand the problems present in the communities, as well as to improve our knowledge and skills in various fields." As a result, the students participated in powering local water pumps with solar panels for irrigation of endemic lentils and other climate resilient crops. "A lot of work has been done. The work of villagers has become easier. The water problem has been resolved. We must sustain the results," says Raisa Khachatryan, Solak farmer. The project also established important cooperation with the local Water User Association. Challenges and response action: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the academic program was briefly interrupted. The universities and the Solak community were under lock down for certain periods of time, which impeded field activities; international travel was restricted, which posed difficulties for the full participation of project partners. "In response to these challenges, classes were organized online. A communication platform was used (Skype), where we would gather once a week", says professor Aram Gevorgyan. Oonline options were put into practice for project components such as the academic program (which resumed promptly)also for, some field activities (monitoring and training components), international exchanges, and project coordination. Field work and the academic program were conducted in full compliance with national and community restrictions. Business models training for farmers (conducted via Skype) also included messages on personal hygiene and social distancing during the pandemic. The project partners have been strong in mobilising the capacities of staff and experts, many of them with backgrounds in epidemiology, hygiene, and sanitation. Participating experts conducted a series of online webinars on COVID-19 for Solak community farmers and their children. The project's education partnership expanded to include more university students and professors, as well as engaging the private sector (specifically, solar energy companies). The students involved in the academic component are among first-round finalists of a UNDP-supported incubator of ideas.