Honey for Teghut: Environmental campaign uses apiculture as a message

A group of environmental activists campaigning to conserve a forest with some rare species of flora and fauna in northern Armenia is trying to prove that there is an alternative to mining in the area that can provide sustainable livelihoods to the local population.

The first attempt of the environmental campaign called “Teghut, a Mine or Life?” has focused on beekeeping as activists have brought the first batch of honey made in Teghut and sold it in Yerevan. Now the group is taking orders for more honey which is available at a price of 3,000 drams per liter or 4,500 drams per kilo (between some $7 and $11).

“We always say that by buying Teghut products people help prevent an illegal and destructive mining project. We first collected orders on Facebook. After that we had honey sent over from the Teghut area and gave it a very simple packaging with a green cover, attaching to jars information leaflets about the Teghut issue. We sold honey at the price quoted by farmers,” Lena Nazaryan, a member of the initiative group, told ArmeniaNow. She added that the result was expected for them as people are aware of the Teghut problem - many cannot have a direct involvement in the process but are willing to contribute otherwise.

For more than four years environmentalists have been trying to stop the operation of copper-molybdenum mines near the village of Teghut in the Lori province. They say mining activities will cause irreversible damage to the local environment and the Teghut forest. Environmental pressure groups have staged numerous protests and engaged in litigations, but they also have sought to show that it is possible to have environmentally safe business models in the area that will be profitable and will have a long-term prospect at the same time.

“The problem is that a mining myth has been created over Teghut. People have been made to believe that mining is the only means of economic development in Teghut. Meanwhile, options such as agriculture, tourism and other productions have purposefully not even been considered,” says Nazaryan. “When we met with villagers in Teghut and explained to them that we want to take what they harvest from their gardens and gather in the forest to Yerevan and sell it at the price they give themselves, they were more than happy and willing to cooperate. They have plenty of products, they simply have no sales market, and if they have no markets to sell their goods, naturally, they are not interested in farming, in creating infrastructure for developing their farms.”

Nazaryan says they follow three principles in their initiative: they bring only the best goods from Teghut, do not take commissions and do not work only with one villager, as they try to attract all who have good products. After the successful experiment with honey, the environmentalists intend to bring other agricultural products as well: Cornelian cherries, quince, nuts, haw, hip, aveluk, mint, thyme, various berries, etc. They also plan to launch a website, www..market.teghut.am, through which they will be taking orders for products.

“This year we will work with this model, exploring the potential, and beginning next year we will start seeking investors,” says Nazaryan. “In the meantime proving continuously that there are prerequisites for sustainable business programs in Teghut and that Teghut’s mining project will not, after all, raise the living standards of the local villagers, but will only enrich private owners. We are going not only to show that the villager can live off his product if possibilities are created for developing this direction, but we will also create an alternative. Then it will be up to the villagers to decide whether they want to live without a prospect or they want to have an opportunity to make their own capital and use it.”

Optimistic of their campaign, nonetheless, environmentalists refuse to say how much honey they’ve sold so far.