The Georgian Farmers Association is not on the list of Agriterra’s clients. Still, in February 2016 and recently in February 2020 Agriterra was invited by the GFA to do an assessment of the organisation. The agripool experts Ton Duffhues and Frank Zeinstra went for a second time to this country situated in a complex geopolitical region. The provinces Ossetia and Abkhazia are now occupied by the Russians; Georgia wants to become a member of the European Union in 2027 and the United States of America have a very strong diplomatic commitment. Both EU and VS are supporting this small country with development programs.
Eight years after its start in 2012, the GFA counts 4000 members: a mix of individual members, small cooperatives and associations. The GFA struggles with members who are used to the top down government action and repression from the Soviet period. Georgian government started some twelve years ago with a programme to establish small cooperatives in most villages. Only a part of them still exist and can be identified as cooperatives with economic goals and activities. The word cooperation is suspect and the GFA had to overcome this mentality by the majority of the farmers. Up till now the members don’t pay a yearly fee. The board and the farmers council decided to introduce paid services for the members in 2020. The results of the assessment must help the GFA with a strategic plan for next few years, including a business plan for services and becoming less dependent on donor money and projects.
During our visits we had many discussions on the topic of free membership. Their argument: The majority of the small farmers will not pay. “Look at the structure of the agricultural sector, they say “. More than 70% of the farmers has less than 1 ha of land, 23% between 1 – 5 ha and only 1,5% more than 5 ha. The core members of the GFA are the entrepreneurial farmers and not the peasants. We noticed that in 4 years’ time, the GFA went through a tremendous development in becoming an umbrella organisation and in being respected by many external and internal stakeholders as the ‘voice of the farmers’. How did the GFA manage this?
Nino Zambakhidze (1978) is founder and chairwoman of the GFA. She is a dynamic lady, graduated at the Technical University in Tbilisi, became the managing director of a dairy farm and combined feed factory, won the Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2011, visited the World Economic Forum in Davos and with 50 other entrepreneurial women from all over the world, she visited the White House and met President Donald Trump. As a well-known public person (Facebook, television, You-tube) she is an excellent lobbyist and networker for the farmers and the GFA. Stimulated by her success many other farmers and farmer wives are willing to tell their stories about farming and farming products in the public (digital) arena. The charisma and the accessibility of chairwoman Nino, in combination with the agrarian expertise of the other board members and the managerial qualities of executive director Tamar Toria, made the GFA a trustworthy organisation and made the farmers voice heard again in Georgia. This agrarian renaissance is necessary to stop the exodus from the countryside and to get better opportunities for young and entrepreneurial farmers.