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USAID Supports Disaster Recovery and Economic Development in Mtskheta-Mtianeti Region

Tuesday, December 18
USAID and its New Economic Opportunities (NEO) Initiative held two events in the mountainous Mtskheta-Mtianeti region on December 13. In Bulachauri, one of the six communities in the Dusheti and Tianeti municipalities severely affected by the July 2012 hail storm, NEO distributed multi-mineral feed blocks to help sustain cattle over the winter season. USAID also opened a modern souvenir-production facility in Aragvispiri village of Dusheti municipality, owned by the Georgian firm Combimap and supported by the NEO project.

The events were attended by USAID Mission Director, Stephen M. Haykin; Deputy Minister of Regional Development and Infrastructure, Tengiz Shergelashvili; Head of the Parliamentary Committee for Regional Policy, Self-Government and Mountainous Regions, Irakli Tripolski; Deputy Governor of the Mtskheta-Mtianeti and Dusheti Municipality, Nunu Mghebrishvili; MP Zakaria Kutsnashvili and representatives from the National Tourism Administration.

Haykin underscored that funding economic and success-oriented projects for Georgian development is on the agenda for the organization.

“We aim to assist the country’s economic and tourism potential and finance projects that will provide long term profit. We are also working to best address the post-disaster need of the local population,” Haykin told The Messenger.

The newly created local souvenir production facility will produce high-quality souvenirs for the Georgian tourism market and will create twenty new jobs. According to the founder and the director of the factory, Luka Gotsiridze, it is a unique souvenir production facility in the South Caucasus.

“Several years ago Combimap was focused on manufacturing the souvenirs abroad and importing them to Georgia, currently, after we became one of the winners of the grants program announced by USAID NEO project, we managed to buy state-of-the-art equipment so that to produce souvenirs locally. Our products are being sold all around Georgia as well as in duty free shops of Tbilisi, Istanbul, Riga, Skopje and others. Due to its new opportunities, the ability to immediately respond to local market demand, enhance the variety of the souvenirs, and improve quality of souvenirs due to new equipment and skilled labor force the company anticipates a 30% increase in annual sale,” Gotsiridze told The Messenger. No less important, this new venture will create about 20 well-paid jobs for the local population with the employee salaries ranging within GEL 140-400. They will have insurance and a chance to receive training abroad.

MP Tripolski congratulated the founders and thanked USAID and NEO for their contribution to the economic development of the region. He emphasized that international assistance, especially in creating new jobs is essential for the Georgian government. Tripolski believes, there are vast possibilities for the economic develpment in Mtskheta-Mtianeti region due to its big potential, remarkable natural resources along with rich cultural heritage and ancient cultural monument.

In response to The Messenger's question of how the government can assist in the undertaking of such projects, MP Kutsnashvili stated that a fair business environment and strong anti-monopoly actions should be ensured by the state. “It is difficult to give a specific timetable for when the process will be addressed and a truly fair business environment will be established. However, there is goodwill of the new government to do this as soon as possible and we are doing our best for this," Kutsnashvili told us.

The second event was dedicated to the distribution of multi-mineral feed blocks in the village of Bulachauri. According to Haykin, "We came here right after the hail storm to study the situation and develop an action plan how to best address the post-disaster needs of farmers’ in the livestock and vegetable sectors. As a result, through the NEO project, USAID launched the agricultural recovery initiatives in the six hail-affected communities within the Dusheti and Tianeti municipalities of the Mtskheta-Mtianeti region". He added that overall, 1,617 households will be supported through the post recovery assistance.

As such, NEO has started to distribute multi-mineral feed blocks to each household owning cattle in the target communities affected by the hail storm in the Dusheti and Tianeti municipalities. The feed blocks will act as a dietary supplement to the forage fed to the cattle during the winter season and will also improve the health and productivity of the cattle.

The locals thanked the organizations for assistance. However they expressed more demands towards the government.

“80% of our harvest was annihilated due to the hail storm and we have been given just two sacks of flour and one sack of fertilizer from the government… we have no natural gas…there are villages in the region which have never had gas… we had but during the former government gas distribution stopped, the reason was as if the counters should be changed… we have serious problems regarding drinking water as well, when a large part of Tbilisi drinks Bulachauri water…there is practically nothing in the village, including cultural institutions,” residents told The Messenger.

“In addition, NEO is working to install tunnel greenhouses in Bulachauri village to produce vegetable seedlings for distribution to households which sustained substantial crop losses in the hail storm in Dusheti municipality and to distribute seed potatoes to re-establish ware potato production in the five hail-affected communities in Tianeti municipality. We believe, the proposed activities will foster immediate income generation opportunities for the affected populations during the 2013 production cycles,” the USAID mission director stated. In addition to the recovery efforts, NEO will utilize emergency funds to implement preventative maintenance and rehabilitation of flood-damaged, riverbank protective structures in the flood-affected villages of Chonkadzeebi and Magharoskari in the Dusheti municipality, to minimize further harm to the lives and livelihoods of the 470 at-risk households, agricultural crops, schools, rural access roads and the North-Central Military Highway from damage in future high water events. (NEO is funded by the U.S. Government through USAID to help Georgians access economic markets, attract investment and implement economically beneficial infrastructure projects).