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Farmers win battle to avoid corn payments

By Salome Modebadze
Friday, October 28
The Christian Democratic Movement (CDM) welcomed the decision of the Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to free farmers from making payments for hybrid corn seed that they received through a Government program. As the President said at a government session on Wednesday he had had greater expectations for the hybrid corn project, and pointed out that Government must teach local farmers how to properly plant the corn. Meeting with the Gurjaani population in Kakheti, the Christian Democratic Movement leader Giorgi Targamadze welcomed the state decision to relieve smaller landholders of their debts for corn seed.

Targamadze also recollected how the CDM had been fighting for farmers’ rights. “The Georgian President has confirmed the logic and fairness of our initiative after the Parliament MPs. When most farmers received much smaller harvests due to the failure of unprepared projects, debt relief is greatly welcome,” Targamadze stated. Stressing the necessity for correcting the projects and better informing the farmers, Targamadze advised the government to develop plans for individual regions according to the specific features of their soil. The CDM leader added that the farmers should be free to choose which corn to plant."

The Party Our Georgia-Free Democrats accused the government of incompetence in agricultural issues. As the party member Davit Onoprishvili said at a press conference on Thursday, Saakashvili practically confirmed the failure of the hybrid corn project by relieving the neediest farmers of their debt for seed. Worrying that the unsuccessful implementation of the project damaged thousands of peasants in various regions, Onoprishvili reminded the audience that the leader of their party, Irakli Alasania, had recently appealed to the Georgian Government to dismiss the Minister of Agriculture, Bakur Kvezereli.

It was in September, 2011 when the dwellers of Khobi in Samegrelo region complained about the bad hybrid corn harvest to Alasania. Farmers left with no harvest asked for assistance. Alasania pointed out it was the responsibility of the Fund of the Georgian President to cover the farmers’ losses. “We have been asking the government to stop idealizing Singapore and consider the problems Georgia is facing during their governance, particularly in the agricultural sector,” Onoprishvili stated.

The opposition member worried that the country has practically lost its independence in foodstuffs and had became a food importing country. Accusing the authorities of deliberately destroying Georgian agriculture for the last eight years, Onoprishvili stressed that Irakli Alasania and his team had developed a strategy for agricultural development which would help solve the crisis and promote the agricultural sector.

As President Saakashvili said on Wednesday, it was the United National Party Member MP Akaki Bobokhidze, who initiated the debt relief. Bobokhidze explained to The Messenger that the initative was extended only to farmers who received seeds for less than a hectare, but who didn’t get as much harvest as expected. The MP stressed that the reasons for their “failure” might differ since improper climate or personal laziness could affect their harvests, but he added that the experiment wasn't a total failure. The local municipalities have the lists of farmers who received seeds, so they will be free from paying liabilities to the state. However it would impact the regional budgets since they would lack financial support from the central state budget.

According to information released by the Ministry of Agriculture on September 28, 2011 the "corn project" was considered one of the most successful programs economically. With 464,800 tons of harvest, Georgia even plans to export corn and at a significant income. But the opinions of the state and public society differ--while most analysts discourage the introduction of hybrid corns and encourage Georgian seeds, the ruling party welcomes innovation and is betting on wider export potential for 2012.