Armenia’s mountainous expanses are home to many historical treasures, including the first church in the world to be built by the state. Indeed Armenia was the first country to recognise Christianity. It has, and has retained, its own unique alphabet.

For all its ancient and historical treasures, this Eastern European nation has a high altitude which makes for a testing climate for its people. Long, cold and snowy winters and dry, hot summers.

A former piece of the Soviet Union, this landlocked plot in the South Caucasus declared its independence in 1990 – the first of the non-Baltic nations in the Soviet Union to do so – but the road to economic independence has not been simple.

Armenia’s borders with Turkey to its west and Azerbaijan to its east are closed. Turkey doesn’t recognise the Armenian genocide of 1915 and there is continued fighting over where the border lies with Azerbaijan. This has been trying for the Armenian economy because it has halted all trade in and out of the country.

In 2010 Oxfam joined the growing list of NGOs and others like the World Bank in backing Armenia. Oxfam has established 10 rural cooperatives in ten poor, rural communities which help more than 340 farmer households, with more than 1500 direct beneficiaries.

One of the poorest regions on the north-east of the country, the Tavush province, is home to the Aknaghbyur Agricultural Consumer Cooperative.

One of the 37 small farmer holders of this cooperative is 80-year-old Shaghik Mkhitaryan. She, like many other farmers, cultivate traditional Armenian crops which include fig, persimmon, cornelian cherry and mulberry.

Climate change has had a negative impact on agriculture, such as hails, early and late spring frost, as well as abundant rainfall.

Now Shaghik is cultivating non-traditional crops which cope better with the harsher climate, crops like cherry tomato, chillies and broccoli.

For all its challenges, Armenia and its people are working together to bring sustainability to rural communities and economies.

This story is an IYC Yearbook feature: