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USAID To Expand Economic Opportunities in the Gori Municipality

Tuesday, November 6
On Friday, USAID’s Deputy Mission Director Roy Plucknett joined Gori municipal authorities to attend the presentation of the local economic development plans (EDP) developed by the Nikozi, Tirdznisi, Dzevera and Akhalubani communities that are being supported by USAID’s New Economic Opportunities (NEO) initiative.

The plans developed by the Gori municipality communities indentify promising economic sectors, prioritize infrastructure projects, facilitate public-private dialogue and leverage additional investments for the communities’ priority projects. To date, the community-level EDPs have been completed in 9 out of 16 NEO target communities within the Gori municipality.

Chair of the Municipality Council, Zviad Khmaladze, expressed his gratitude to the U.S. government and the American people, as the projects being implemented by NEO within the municipalities and communities throughout Georgia are made possible through their assistance.

Khmaladze emphasized the importance of community involvement in identifying and solving problems in the villages locally. Khmaladze promised that community representatives will work together to solve the various problems and challenges the villages face.

“I would like to express my gratitude to the USAID NEO project. [This project] enabled our communities to begin actively working on their community problems. Strong communities are a precondition to strong local self-government. We have seen how well they have worked in the past and now, on behalf of the municipality council, we will start working to manage the current problems,” Khmaladze stressed.

“With the community’s involvement and on behalf of USAID, I want to welcome you today in working together to create new economic opportunities within the communities of the Gori municipality. We appreciate your cooperation,” said Roy Plucknett.

According to Plucknett NEO plans to support 16 infrastructural projects identified by communities in Gori. These include the improvement of roads and an irrigation system. The NEO project will invest approximately $300, 000 and its work will reach approximately 2,000 households within the Gori municipality. In addition, NEO is investing in rural economic development, technical assistance, grants and training courses in bee-keeping and the fruit and vegetable sectors in the Gori Municipality.

The NEO also provides vocational and on-job training in sectors like hairdressing, sewing and apparel making, and construction to improve incomes for vulnerable population across the Gori municipality.

Lia Shatakishvili from the village of Nikozi, located near the administrative border of the Tskhinvali region, spoke about the current problems her village faces, as well as the activities of her community.

The village of Nikozi was left in very poor condition after the August War of 2008 when Tskhinvali separatists in the region made a decision to shut-off the water supply to a number of villages across the boundary line. As a result, a number of gardens and orchards began to dry-up. This has affected not only agriculture, but personal gardens and trees as well. The local population would usually use those trees as firewood during the winter. Currently, 42% of the population resides below the poverty line.

Shatakishvili detailed the problems of the village; the root causes of the problems and set out the ways that they can be solved. She highlighted that along with challenges related to fruit-growing, an additional problem is that of cattle breeding. There was a period when almost every family had cattle. Now the situation is different. Due to the lack of pasture areas and no veterinary services, people cannot afford to keep livestock.

One wish of the local population is the implementation of a garbage storage/removal service, without which, contributes to the area’s pollution and causes various infectious diseases– mostly among cattle. Currently, there is no service, and residents are unable to process or remove waste from the village.

Nodar Kasradze, who is from the Tirdznisi community, states that out of 5,000 residents, 35% of them live below the poverty line. Fruit gardens in the village need to be renewed and each young plant costs between GEL 10-12; this is a very high cost for most families in Tirdznisi. Kasradze also explained that village residents have little access to agricultural pesticides, which are crucial to the cultivation of fruit gardens and orchards. According to Kasradze, local residents avoid running small businesses because many just do not possess the skills and knowledge to do so. Accordingly, they are afraid that their small business will fail. In order to improve the general business know-how, Kasradze emphasizes that it would be very beneficial if there were some training courses available to the local community. He also touched upon the insurance of the agriculture harvest and bank loans. Kasradze explained that due to high interest rates in banks, people do not want to take part in such risky endeavors.

Kirk Ramer, the NEO’s Chief of Party, told The Messenger that for the most vulnerable people, they have a program that offers a no-interest loan program, providing local residents an opportunity to access loans and expand their businesses. However, a key precondition of the loan is undergoing a training course in order to ensure that the funds are spent appropriately. In addition, the training courses will help them learn how to manage a business.

“Through training they will be taught business skills, business management and how to manage loans. They should understand what they need and how to operate a business– not only to pay back their loans, but also to grow their business,” the NEO chief of party told The Messenger.

Winter is approaching and the most acute problem for both communities is the heating system. Nikozi community representative say that because there is no gas provided in the village, people cut their trees for heating purposes. While there is a great desire for the provision of gas, the costs associated with this are prohibitive for most– each family would need to pay approximately 500-600 GEL.

Representatives of USAID and local government also visited the Khurvaleti IDP settlement to handover tool-kits and certificates to the maintenance teams of the Khurvaleti and Berbuki Tenants’ Associations.

As such, USAID has been working in six pilot IDP apartment buildings and two IDP cottage settlements to establish Homeowners and Tenants' Associations, providing capacity-building and maintenance training courses to the association members.

According to Marika Shioshvili, NEO's IDP Housing Component Leader, "NEO provided trainings for the maintenance teams of the Berbuki and Khurvaleti Tenants' Associations who will be in charge of overseeing the care of IDP cottages, as well as be responsible for the repair needs of the local residents. The resources developed for the pilot program will later be extended for all target communities."

22 year-old Maia Kasradze is from the village of Kemerti, which is now occupied territory. She lives in the Khurvaleti IDP settlement with her family and as soon as she heard about it, she decided to join the initiative.

“NEO faciliated the establishment of the Tenants' Association in our settlement. We have been provided with training courses and today the Tenants' Associations of both our settlements received [our] very useful and expensive toolkits. I am very glad that I joined this group, because I will be employed and I will make my contribution to our settlement’s improvement. We are preparing a number of projects and then we will try to locate organizations that will finance them. The first project will be prepared soon and aims to repair and equip the settlement,” Kasradze told the paper.

The NEO is a program funded by the U.S. Government through USAID, and aims to help people within the municipalities and communities of Georgia access economic markets, attract investment, identify and implement economically useful infrastructure projects, and improve IDP housing.