Armenia is a very high country. The lowest part, the Dehed Valley at the Georgian border in the northeast, lies at 400m above sea level while the average altitude is 1,370m and only 10% of the land is under 1,000m. Although mountainous in parts, much of Armenia is more a high plateau fissured by deep gorges. The volcanic soil in the valleys means that the ground is highly fertile but irrigation is essential because of the low rainfall and about 10% of the entire land is irrigated. Even so, Armenia is a net importer of food. The growing of food crops is obviously unfeasible in the mountainous areas but is equally unfeasible on much of the plateau because of the lack of water although some of the alpine meadows are used for the production of hay. The mountains do support a surprisingly large population of cattle as well as sheep and goats, and livestock can often be encountered at unexpected elevations in fairly inaccessible places.
About 20% of the land is arable, while 24% is pasture and about 15% is forest. Fruit growing is important. Fruits as diverse as pomegranates, grapes, strawberries, peaches, persimmons and apples are grown but two fruits native to Armenia and which were consequently first eaten here remain important although they have now spread to the rest of the world. One is the apricot - its scientific name reflects this - Armeniaca vulgaris - and Armenians claim with some justification that their apricots are the best in the world. Apricot stones 6,000 years old have been found at archaeological sites and today there are about 50 varieties in the country. The other is the sweet cherry or mazzard, Prunus avium, from which all the world's 900 varieties of sweet cherry have been cultivated. It spread to the West very early and was known in Greece by 300bc. Walnuts, pistachios, almonds and hazelnuts grow wild in Armenia and they too are now extensively cultivated. Also of great importance is that Armenia is possibly the country where wheat was first cultivated, perhaps about 10,000 years ago.
Two native species of wheat Triticum urartu and T. araraticum still grow in protected fields in the Arax Valley. The importance of both culinary and medicinal herbs, collected from the hillsides, can be seen in any Armenian market.
A major feature of the country is Lake Sevan whose surface area was formerly 1,416km2 but this has been reduced by abstracting water for hydro-electric and irrigation purposes. It is one of the world s largest high-altitude lakes with its surface originally 1,915m above sea level. By 2001, it had fallen to 1,896m but it has now started to rise again. There is commercial exploitation of fish stocks although the introduction of alien species has led to the virtual extinction of the endemic trout.
Armenia has a number of significant rivers which all flow east into the Caspian Sea. Hydro-electric schemes on these rivers are important as the only indigenous energy resource within the country which has been developed apart from a small wind farm on the top of the Pushkin Pass in Lori province. Hydroelectric schemes provide around one third of electricity requirements and small hydro-electric schemes are under construction throughout the country. Another third of electricity is generated using nuclear power and the balance is thermal generation mostly using imported gas. Electricity is exported to Georgia and there are seasonal exchanges with Iran. Gas is mostly imported from Russia by pipeline through Georgia although the Armenian and Iranian gas networks are also linked. Armenia itself has no known reserves of coal, oil or gas but geological and seismic surveys for oil and gas have started.
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