The messenger logo

NGOs discuss rural development in Georgia

By Salome Modebadze
Friday, June 22
At a conference entitled Opportunities in Rural Development for Small Framers hosted by CARE International in the Caucasus (CIC), the opportunities for small-scale farmers living in Georgia’s rural areas were discussed.

Thomas Reynolds, Mission Director of CIC, spoke of agriculture as a huge component of the rural economy. He explained that the small farmers who represent over half the rural population have great ideas about marketing, tourism, and other aspects of the rural economy. All of these are ideas that organizations like CARE take into consideration in creating new opportunities for them.

Co-hosts of the event, the American Chamber of Commerce in Georgia (AmCham), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), shared their concerns on how to raise awareness about rural development and distribute responsibilities between the key stakeholders.

Rudolf Schoch, Regional Director of SDC in the South Caucasus spoke of the necessity of vocational education among the farmers. He said that by restoring the value chain, they would have more potential to cultivate their fellow lands and enjoy the benefits of agricultural prosperity.

According to Giga Mikautadze, Head of the Agricultural Development Department of the Ministry of Agriculture of Georgia, “[focusing on] only agriculture can’t build up the village.” Mikautadze said the farmers should become oriented on promoting their business – on both the local and international market. He said the government is trying to fill the gap caused by the low interest of private companies and assist the farmers.

Juan-Jose Echanove, Agriculture Task Manager from the Delegation of European Union to Georgia, spoke on the concept of rural development for the country. Echanove spoke of the three main elements united under the term “rural,” which are: the improvement of competitiveness of the agricultural sector; the improvement of the environment in the countryside, and the improvement of a quality of lifestyle through the diversification of the rural economy. Talking of agriculture as the future of rural development, he said he can’t see that momentum in Georgia and asked the participants to share their concerns whether it is necessary to make a rural policy or not.

But as Kote Khmaladze, Head of Regional Economic Development Department of the Ministry of Regional Development explained, the policy exists and the inter-ministerial commission is working on the strategy of regional development for each particular region. Talking of the “investment hunger” in the country, Khmaladze wondered why the banking sector has turned its back on the problem.

Eric Livny, the Executive Director of Tbilisi’s International School of Economics (ISET) said that a well organized agriculture sector can be achieved through the “power of associations.” He said that although the Georgian government removed the barriers for small entrepreneurs by liberalizing trade, simplifying taxation and improving infrastructure, it still didn’t help agriculture promotion at the desired pace, because everybody is doing the same. Livny suggested that the farmers should unite to “invest together and add value.”

He said every successful idea which brings income to one individual may lose its value if everyone starts doing the same. Thus, the associations would help farmers to properly manage their resources because “if one is successful it doesn’t mean that everyone will be the same.”

Keti Getiashvili, Dierctor of OXFAM Georgia, said that donor organizations should help the government to fulfill their plans. Recollecting how the Soviet Union was against any difference between the rural and urban areas, Getiashvili suggested the consideration of good examples from past experience. She said people living in the countryside don’t depend only on agriculture, but there were industrial and cultural institutions which hindered urban migration. “Today Georgia has the luxury of international donors with huge experience who not only allocate money, but they also know different models of rural development worldwide,” Getiashvili told The Messenger.

“Everyone admits today that the farmers lack knowledge. But they have developed their skills from their ancestors and thus think they know everything,” she said, giving the example of farmers living in the Adjarian mountains who were eager to acquire modern techniques to improve their productivity. Hoping that the government would consider international expertise, Getiashvili said donor organizations should always support the state to promote new technology among the farmers.