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EU allocates 15 million euro for small farmers’ cooperatives

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
WEdnesday, March 12
The European Union signed four grants in support of small farmers in Georgia within the ENPARD programme (The European Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development in Georgia is a 40 million EU-funded programme signed in December 2012, the programme provides financial and strategic assistance in the field of agriculture). The event took place in Tsinamdzghvriantkari village on March 11 at the green-house established by IDP women farmers’ successful cooperative through Oxfam assistance.

The grants totaling 15 million have been awarded to four consortia: Oxfam Great Britain, Care Austria, People in Need and Mercy Corps Scotland, which bring together some 16 national and international organizations, including agricultural associations and academic institutions.

The projects will assist the establishment of more than 160 cooperatives with technical assistance, development of new capacities, and direct investment covering 45 districts, and targeting all the regions of Georgia.

The EU informs that cooperatives are business-oriented voluntary-based organizations of small farmers, created in order to gain economies of scale, enhance their efficiency and improve their linkages in the market.

It should be stressed that in Georgia the agriculture sector is mainly of a subsistence nature and is characterized by low-productivity and weak competitiveness. While nearly half of the population derives the majority of their income from agriculture, the sector contributes less than 10% to GDP, and exports only account for about a third of agriculture imports. Poverty rates in rural areas is about 30%, higher than those in urban areas (18%) and nation-wide (24%). Almost 74% of the rural population farms on plots, which are smaller than one hectare. According to the Georgian Government, improved agriculture productivity and commercialization play an important role in poverty alleviation.

The Georgian Government has recently taken the initiative in creating an enabling environment for the establishment of farmers’ groups. The Georgian Agricultural strategy has a chapter for Support to Cooperation Development.

Neli Kochlishvili, who is one of the 15 women who established a cooperative in Tsinamdzghvriantkari states that the IDP women launched the action through the advice and initial financial assistance of foreign organizations. According to her, the cooperative’s start was successful and they even plan to increase production and income.

“We gathered more than 8 tons of sweetbrier, we have launched the cooperative in September 2013. people living here already have a positive attitude towards cooperatives,” Kochlishvili told The Messenger.

There were those at the ceremony who has ideas and initiatives and a wish to create such cooperatives. One of such individuals is Teimuraz Ghoghoberidze, who wants to create a cooperative that will produce royal jelly and some other less known, effective medical means made by bees. As he told The Messenger, he already works with some other people for to create a project and gain financial assistance for the cooperative.

However, there were those as well who had wished to create a cooperative even since 2011 and were ignored.

Father Abraam Solomnishvili came from Gurjaani to attend the event. He told The Messenger that more than 25 families in Gurjaani had wanted to create the cooperative producing honey since 2011, when a large part of the population was against cooperatives. “However, neither local government, nor international organizations expressed interest towards us,” Solomnishvili siad.

Deputy Head of EU delegation, Boris Yaroshevich told The Messenger that the major obstacle in creating the cooperatives might be convincing people.

“There are people who think that the cooperatives are similar to Soviet-period collective farms,” Yaroshevich stated, noting that writing good projects is also problematic for gaining financing.

Yaroshevich stressed that creating cooperatives and developing agriculture are especially important on the way of signing the Association Agreement with EU.