The Role of Specialized Agricultural Credit Institutions in the
Development of the Rural Finance Sector of Armenia:
Case of Credit Clubs
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Poster paper prepared for presentation at the International
Association of Agricultural Economists Conference, Gold Coast, Australia,
August 12-18, 2006
Copyright 2006 by V.Urutyan, M.Aleksandryan and V.Hovhannisyan. All rights reserved.
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The Role of Specialized Agricultural Credit Institutions in the Development of the
Rural Finance Sector of Armenia: Case of Credit Clubs
The paper aims at studying the challenges of agricultural finance in Armenia. Strengthening the
rural credit markets and institutions in Armenia is of paramount importance. The study reviews
and analyzes the outcomes of the Agricultural Credit Club Program implemented by the US
Department of Agriculture Marketing Assistance Program in Armenia. The study identifies the
attitudes and perceptions of member farmers relating to the level of interest rates and access to
credit. The findings provided clear indications of the challenges facing the improvement or even
development of rural financial markets and agricultural credit institutions from the demand side
of agricultural credits. The study concentrates on several important issues like: problems with
loan collateralization in rural areas, land reform and property rights, transaction costs for
monitoring rural credits, the role of government in rural credit and finance markets, and the role
of specialized agricultural credit institutions like credit clubs. The research was based on surveys
and interviews. Surveys have been conducted among credit club members to identify and
measure the benefits of such a rural credit cooperative initiative. Based on findings, certain
recommendations have been proposed regarding the rural finance and credit mechanisms.
JEL classification: Q13, Q14
Keywords: credit clubs, rural finance, agricultural credit, cooperatives
Agricultural credit and rural finance play important role in the recovery and growth of
transitional countries. Rural credit and finance problems are caused by a combination of
“normal” imperfection of rural credit markets and specific transition problems such as
macroeconomic instability, institutional reforms of the financial system, low profitability in
agriculture, high risk and uncertainty, and general contract enforcement problems (OECD,
2001). Problems of imperfect (asymmetric) information, lack of collateral and low profitability
make banks view the agricultural sector as a high risk consumer. The changes of agriculture
together with macroeconomic uncertainty have created difficulties in the normal process of
financing agricultural activity. The problems in the credit market for agriculture stem from both
demand and supply forces (Gow & Swinnen, 1997).
While early discussions of the finance problems focused mostly on the institutional
problems, later studies emphasize profitability and cash flow problems (Dries and Swinnen,
2002). An important factor in the cash flow and profitability problems are contract enforcement
problems throughout the agro-food chain (Gow and Swinnen, 2001). A survey of food
companies in Central Europe identified payment delays as their constraint number one for
growth (Gorton et al. 2000) cited by Dries (2002).
After the collapse of the former state and collective farms, established food processors in
Armenia and in other former soviet republics, have lost guaranteed, state directed, supplies and
demand. They have had to establish their own relationships to effectively acquire agricultural
raw materials. Restructuring and privatization has led to the separation of many previously
horizontally and vertically integrated enterprises together with the emergence of new type of
businesses (White and Gorton, 2004). This itself led to a situation of widespread financial
distress, high discount rates, and a lack of contractual enforcement (Cocks, 2003) and hold up
problems (Gow and Swinnen, 2001).
Surveys in many transitional countries have shown that from the perspective of farm
borrowers the primary issue in rural finance has been the level of interest rates on loans. Another
survey in CEE countries reflects the general view that limited access is not the primary problem,
rather interest rates are perceived to be simply too high (Pederson and Khitarishvili, 1997). It’s
important to understand the difference between farmers’ perceptions of “limited access” and the
problem of high interest rates. Pederson and Khitarishvili (1997) define “limited access” to credit
as; a situation where a borrower is not able to get the requested amount of credit, regardless of
the willingness to pay a higher interest rate to the lender. Limited access occurs when there is
nonprice credit rationing, meaning that some individuals or groups cannot obtain loans at any
interest rate (Gow and Swinnen, 1997). The perception of high interest rates means first of all the
availability of credits at a price (Pederson and Khitarishvili, 1997).
The aforementioned problems common in many transitional countries are still apparent in
Armenia. The lack of credit inhibits the development of cash crops, which require higher input
costs. Farmers are in a survival mentality (Matosyan and Harmon, 2003). Lack of financial
means is a major factor that prevents farm households from using all their agricultural land.
In this paper we study rural credit and finance situation and challenges in Armenian
agriculture with special emphasis on the development of the specialized credit institutions,
particularly credit cooperatives. Specialized credit institutions can be found in many different
forms; credit co-operatives, state owned agricultural funds or development funds (Gow and
Swinnen, 1997). The most important advantages for creation of specialized agricultural credit
institutions are lower transaction, monitoring and verification costs through greater specialist
knowledge of relevant agricultural activities. The idea is that this specialist knowledge mitigates
the asymmetric information problems, and with it, the adverse selection and moral hazard
problems, hence reducing credit rationing and stipulating lending to agriculture. The major
disadvantage of these institutions are their higher portfolio risk due to their specialization, which
puts them at great risk if there is down turn in the sector (Gow and Swinnen, 1997).
2. Armenia in Transition
Armenia is a landlocked and mountainous country covering an area of 29,800 km2. It is
located in the South Caucasus bordering Turkey, Georgia, Iran and Azerbaijan. The population
of Armenia is 3.22 million (as of April 1, 2005), with another 5 million Diaspora (NSS, 2005).
During the Soviet period Armenia was an industrialized country with a large rural
population. Armenia was exporting its outputs chiefly to the other “brother” republics, and in
turn relying on them for key inputs. The severe earthquake in 1988 that destroyed more than a
third of the production capacity followed by the collapse of the Soviet Union left Armenia in
deep political, economic and social crises. The inherited governmental and legal infrastructure
was seriously flawed, plagued with overwhelming levels of bureaucracy, corruption and
nepotism (Kyureghian and Zohrabyan, 2005). The market-oriented reforms introduced in 1991-
92 comprised the privatization of many productive resources and organizations. Armenia was
one of the former soviet republics to privatize agriculture effectively and swiftly during 1991-92:
after independence followed the legislation necessary for the privatization of land, around 70%
of arable land and agricultural output came into hands of individual peasant farms. During the
last decade of the 20th century, Armenia thus transformed from an industrialized state to one that
is to a significant degree agrarian (Lerman and Bezemer, 2003).
3. Agricultural Land Market in Armenia
First in the early 1990s Armenia and Georgia, then Kyrgyzstan, and later on Moldova
implemented redistributive land reforms (Spoor, 2004). The first outcome of this reform was the
very small size of these family farms, which on average was not more than 1.4 hectares (of
which only 1.1 ha arable). The small farm size is not conducive to the application and use of new
innovative technology which itself hinders the development of the sector. The second was that
primarily arable land (adding most of the orchards and vineyards) was privatized, while an
important part of the hay land and pasture was kept in “state reserve”. Third, landowners
received on average three parcels of land, of which one is irrigated and two non-irrigated.
As of January 2005, there were 338,502 (See Table 1) peasant farms, which possessed
around 468,600 hectares of agricultural land. It is estimated that 88% of the farms are smaller
than 2 hectares and they use 77% of the total land area. Twelve percent of the farms are larger
than two hectares and they use 23% of land (MoA and FAO, 2002).
Table 1: Number and Acreage of Peasant Farms (2000-2004)
Number of Peasant Farms, Units
Land Area of Peasant Farms (x 1000 Ha)
Average Size Peasant Farms (Ha)
334,759 334,688 337,906 338,502
2002 2003 2004
Land Balance (1997, x 1000 Ha)
Source: NSS 2005a; Statistical Yearbook of Armenia 2004.
Land market and land lease market emerged in Armenia only by the late 1990s, until that
time land was managed under informal or customary arrangements.
Reports provided by the State Cadastre Committee show that the land sale and lease
markets are developing in Armenia. Land market developed quickly reaching a total of 5,984
land sale transactions in 2004. According to the SCC the land sale transactions numbered only
268 in 1998 (SCC, 2004). Since 2000 land lease transactions (officially registered) showed
substantial growth. In 2001 and 2002 transaction numbers grew to respectively 4,355 and 3,915.
In 2003 there was a decline in land lease transactions without reason. However, it’s estimated
that many lease operations are being done based on customary arrangements or without formal
registration thus avoiding significant transaction costs.
4. Agricultural Credit and Rural Finance in Armenia
Although total credits in agriculture have increased by 11.7%, the percentage of
agricultural credits in total decreased by 1.4% in 2004. There is evidence that the portion of
credits having a maturity of 1 year and more is increasing (See Table 2). Table also shows that
credits in food industry have significantly increased reaching to a share of 39.4% in total industry
credits. Agricultural loan portfolio made up about 1.7% of GAO in 2004. The vast majority of
Armenian banks refrain from financing agriculture due to the high risk of the sector.
Table 2: The agricultural credits of the commercial banks operating in Armenia
(in million AMDs)
1 year and
Total Credits, Leasing and Factoring
% in Industry Total
Percentage in Total Credits
Source: CBA, "The Credits of Commercial Banks", 2002-2004.
The only bank that is having a serious share in lending to the agricultural sector is the
1 year and
of 1 year
83,827 36,179 101,820 44,783 139,784 68,831
ACBA Bank (Agricultural Cooperative Bank of Armenia), which in 2004 claimed to have more
than 65 percent of the total commercial bank portfolio in agriculture. This seems to be a very
good indicator, but the overall level is problematically low, and it is no surprise that the ACBA’s
agricultural loan portfolio was only 8.8 million USD (ACBA Annual Report, 2003).
ACBA Bank provides loans to agriculture at 16-24 percent interest (in USD) and at 22-28
percent interest (in AMD) to members and non-members of the Agricultural Cooperative Village
Association. ACBA takes the following as collateral: immovable property-land, buildings,
apartments, houses, fixed assets, working capital, vehicles, precious metal, livestock, electronics,
furniture, etc (MEDI, 2003). Other banks that do some lending to Armenian agriculture are
assisted by the international programs and donors (See Table 3).
Table 3. Loan Products of Banks Under International Agricultural Development Programs.
Bank Product Min. size Max. sizeTerm Interest Target Population
$10,000 $50,000 < 5 years 12%
Agriculture and food
industry (USD only)
$500 $2,000 < 18 months 12%
$2,000 < 18 months 18%
Only to farmers in
$10,000 $250,000< 3 years
rate of the
SMEs (food and
Selection is made by
the USDA MAP.
SMEs and farmers,
USD only. Terms of
repayment to be
settled by the
$5,000 $50,000 < 3 years
rate of the
Source: MEDI 2003.
As of December 31, 2004 seven banks operating in Armenia serviced the loan programs
of the following international and local organizations: KfW, World Bank, EBRD, Eurasia
Foundation, IFAD, National Center for SME Development, International Finance Corporation
and International Migration Foundation. The main directions of the above mentioned credit
programs were trade: 42% in total, agriculture: 21.1% in total, food industry: 8.3% in total and
services: 8% in total (CBA, 2004).
The Central Bank of Armenia has increased the capital requirements of banks from $2
million to $5 million. It is expected that out of 20 banks only 10-13 banks will survive in the
long run. The other banks will either close, merge or become licensed credit organizations under
the “Law on Credit Organizations” (approved in 2002, which includes credit and savings unions,
leasing and factoring companies, and universal non-bank financial institutions-NBFI).
Table 4. Loan Products of Selected Non-Bank Financial Institutions.
NBFI Product Min. size
Max. size Term Interest Note
< 1 year 12%
At least 3 farmers
needed in the
loans to rural
$2,000 $15,000 < 3 years
be 200% of the
< 1 year
the loan needed
will be increased
by 40%. Interest is
Min. 10 farmers in
the group from the
Interest should be
be 150%-200% of
the loan and
300,000 AMD 600,000 AMD < 1 year
$10,000 $125,000 < 4 years 15%
Source: Authors' personal interviews.
There are now several NBFIs licensed under the aforementioned law. It’s worth
mentioning the agricultural loan products of the mentioned NBFIs, which again mainly operate
due to international and donor programs (See Table 4).
Two NBFIs are very active in agricultural leasing: ACBA Leasing (leasing company) and
AgroLeasing (credit and leasing company). ACBA Leasing was launched by ACBA Bank. It’s
as a mid-term equipment lending-leasing credit organization, which is providing secured
equipment leasing to agricultural enterprises and associations of producers at the interest rate of
18-20% (MEDI Report, 2003).
AgroLeasing LLC is introduced and funded by USDA MAP and registered as a local
legal entity in 1999. As of October 2004, 106 lease agreements have been signed with over 40
enterprises through the agro-leasing program with a total financial commitment of $2.3 million
worth of equipment to fruit, vegetable and meat processors, wine and cheese makers, as well as
machinery for regional farmer associations (USDA, 2005).
Despite the fact that agricultural credit volumes are gradually increasing, due to mainly
microfinance organizations, however it satisfies only 8% of the credit demand (MoA, 2004).
5. Financial Assistance Program of the USDA MAP
The role of USDA Marketing Assistance Project as a third – party facilitator in the
development of Armenian agriculture has been and remains significant. Through a package of
marketing, technical and financial assistance USDA MAP aimed at increasing rural incomes,
creating jobs and raising the standard of living of rural communities. Since the initiation of its
loan program, the USDA MAP has issued around 328 loans totaling $11 million. The target
client has nearly been a new business or one that is launching a new product, criteria that local
banks traditionally find too risky (USDA, 2005).
One of the most successful financial assistance projects introduced in Armenia by the
USDA is the creation of “Credit Clubs”. The USDA MAP launching this program aimed at
providing direct technical and financial assistance to the farmers.
6. Agricultural Credit Club Program
The concept of US Credit Unions was used as a keystone for launching the Credit Club
program. USDA MAP invests the initial capital, expecting no return on its equity; members
make membership payments to their own fund, thus building own capital for the future. The
program started as Women in Rural Development and then gradually evolved to the program
where both men and women farmers are involved.
This is not a grant and it is not a loan. This equity investment allows a club to begin operations.
USDA MAP expects no return on its equity investment, but may remove its equity at any time
the club begins to lose its principal or if the club is failing to grow its own equity. USDA does
not agree to leave its equity in the club in perpetuity. Loan applications will be generated from
among members of the club. The club will determine eligibility requirements. USDA suggests
no more than 12-15 members in the first year of operation. All of the club members will serve as
the loan committee for reviewing loan applications. Loan applications should be accompanied by
a business plan that can serve as a basis of review by the club members. Each Club determines
for itself the amount of the membership fee, but up to this point there was unanimously set an
amount of membership payments being 15 percent annually from the loan received. These
payments belong to the club and each member of the club and upon any member’s quitting from
the club or club termination, the members have the right to receive all the amount of their
membership payments provided that the club members have no debt against the club. The
program is continuous and upon repayment every club receives a new loan and starts a new
The activities of the credit clubs are regulated by the Law on Credit Organizations passed
and ratified by the President of the RA in April 2002. This law regulates the status of agricultural
credit clubs and the legal relations connected to their activities, determines club formation,
membership, governing principles, obligatory requirements and conditions on involving
resources and providing credit, insurance and other services to club members, as well as
regulating, controlling and reporting procedures. The law defines the legal status of Clubs as a
volunteer unit with status of legal entity created for mutual financial assistance and is based on
the membership of individuals conducting agricultural activities.
Currently USDA MAP has 50 Credit Clubs in all 10 provinces of the Republic of
Armenia, and is cooperating with 882 farmer-members of Credit Clubs and benefiting around
3,500 families. Total loan portfolio is so far 1.5 million USD and Credit Clubs’ investments are
so far $508,585 (USDA MAP, 2005).
6.2 Women Credit Clubs
Significant attention was paid to gender component, and Credit Club program started to
establish women credit clubs. Gyumri Production Credit Club being the first women credit club,
operates currently and is considered to be the success story of the program. Regardless of
number of problems: management (president resigned), non-repayment (one of the members left
for Russia without repaying the loans and members repaid instead of that lady) club is
considered to be one of the strongest, always operates as a team, ideas of trust and collaboration
are put on first place. Women of Gyumri Credit Club are the ones who besides obligatory
membership payment, decided to make one more $30 each one time-payment to their fund, thus
trying to secure the loans. After one case of non-repayment club has also started to take
collateral, something never done by any club, regardless of performance. Gyumri Women Credit
Club is also the only one that decided to involve men and currently the club has two men
members. The club is involved in production of canned products, bakery, agricultural trade, etc.
Out of 50 Credit Clubs 6 credit clubs are Women Credit clubs with 96 members.
Altogether there are 190 women-members (22%) in the credit clubs. Statistics show that women
are mainly the accountants of the club; however there is one women-president. Women credit
clubs have excellent performance rate, thus it is planned to increase the number of women credit
clubs, try to involve refugee groups and women from remote areas. One potential credit club is
for women-refugees producing wine from berries.
7. The Credit Club Survey
The survey contained questions on farmer attitudes, beliefs and perceptions, performance
evaluation and intention to stay with credit club, questions measuring the familiarity with and
understanding the concept of credit club. A series of choices ranging from “very well” or “agree”
to “very bad” or “disagree” were presented to the member respondents. Descriptive statistics of
the survey are also presented. The collected data is analyzed using frequencies, cross tabulations
and Likert-type scale analysis. A total of 55 credit club members are surveyed representing
around 16 credit clubs from 9 provinces of Armenia.
7.1 The Results
In order to describe the basic features of collected data the descriptive statistics are used
in a study. Respondents’ profiles are analyzed on the basis of age, gender and education.
According to the analysis, 78% of the respondents are males, and 63% lie in the 36-50 age group.
A great portion of respondents is very well educated. Around 56% have university degrees, 15%
have technical college degrees and the rest have secondary school education. About 30% of the
respondents are fruits and vegetables producers, 26% grow crops, another 26% use the loans for
dairy production, 15% for livestock and only 3% use the loan for some small business activities:
bakery, dried fruits, trade, etc. Approximately 45% of the respondents were not familiar with the
concept of credit club/union before, however 55% were familiar or knew about the credit
clubs/unions. The analysis revealed that the older respondents and those with university degrees
were more familiar before with the concept of credit club/union, while younger respondents (21-
35) were the least familiar.
7.2 Membership Status and Commitment
On average the surveyed credit clubs have 17 members. However 33% have only 12
members and 18% have 19 members. Around 52% of the clubs increased the number of
members since the beginning. Of the club members surveyed, 96% state that the objective they
became credit club member is to get assured financing for their agricultural activities. Only 4%
say that the objective was to get loans with specific interest rate. Around 93% of the respondents
realize that the club is a financial or credit cooperative, although 7% think that the credit club is a
kind of “bank”.
Of the club members surveyed, 93% regard the activities and operation of their credit
clubs as successful. It’s obvious that credit clubs are building a reputation as a valuable
community based resource. Seventy four percent would seek another credit club if their club
would cease operation. Only 18% of the respondents stated that the current financing from the
club is not sufficient for their activities and they borrow from banks in parallel. Around 82% of
the members surveyed do not get loans from banks. Almost 96% of current members intend to
stay with the credit club for another two years. Basically all respondents consider themselves as
full members of the credit clubs. Around 41% evaluate the overall activities and operation of the
clubs to be excellent and 48% - well.
8. Summary and Conclusions
One of the major problems inhibiting the development of rural finance is the unclear role
of government. The Government should often intervene in agricultural credit markets, e.g. by
providing guarantees to banks for loans, by setting up credit institutions special for agriculture
and by subsiding credit to agricultural producers (Gow & Swinnen, 1997). In Armenia the role of
government in contributing to the development of the agriculture credit markets is relatively low.
The government should create an appropriate climate for the formation of the specialized
agricultural credit institutions, which are widespread in Western European countries.
The vast majority of Armenian banks refrain from financing agriculture due to the high
risk associated with the sector. There are many problems in land reform issues that inhibit the
development of rural finance sector. The land reform is still incomplete. There is statistical
evidence that land market emerged already, but still land is hardly used as collateral. The
problem of collateral as a barrier to credit remains significant in Armenian agricultural sector.
Banks require up to 200% of collateral level and require residential property in urban areas. Even
farmers willing to pay higher interest rates may not have enough assets to collateralize the
amount of loan they need.
Ninety three percent of the credit club members surveyed regard the activities and
operation of their credit clubs as successful. It’s obvious that credit clubs are building a
reputation as a valuable community based resource. In general the members have good
evaluative performance to their credit clubs. The respondents agree that their club is conducting
appropriate member commitment related activities. The majority of members totally agree that
it's very easy to get loans from the club; the club encourages members to attend at meetings,
implements fair and equal voting, and includes members in decision-making. Respondents
provided very good performance evaluation related to ethical business practices. However,
always there is a room for improvement. Around 18.5% slightly disagree that the Club director
has needed knowledge and experience. Again some 18.5% of the respondents slightly disagree
that the Club offers member trainings, seminars and consulting. Around 7.4% disagree and
11.1% slightly disagree to the fact that the Club encourages new member recruitments. By the
way, many members are willing their clubs to increase the number of members, which will
enable them to borrow more and save more money for the club. The majority of the respondents
would like to receive long-term loans from the Club. They think that for agricultural activities
the loan with a maturity of 1 year is not enough. They also mentioned that it would be useful if
the Club management conduct or organize seminars and trainings related to business plan
writing, accounting and financial management, etc.
Long term recommended plan is to help Credit Clubs to form Unions of Credit Clubs and
finally Foundation of ACCs, which will give them a chance to participate in the decision making
process, raise their voice and hopefully become a significant force which can influence the
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