Read this second part of the blog of agripool expert Ton Duffhues who went to Georgia.
See part 1
We visited two fruit growers, near Gori, the place of birth of dictator Joseph Stalin. We crossed a valley with waste land and orchards and had a view of the beautiful mountains of the Caucasus. Both fruit growers came from the countryside, had parents with a small farm, got educated in the city and went to Germany and the Netherlands to learn about fruit growing. The first farmer we visited started a business in selling technical equipment and fertilizer, together with a farmers’ service and training centre. At the same time, he expanded the small farm of his parents and became a commercial fruit grower: 20 ha with apples, pears and peaches for the Georgian market (direct to local markets) Russia, Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan (fixed prices by contract). In periods of harvest and pruning a team of 10 to 20 native labourers work for him. One of his orchards is a very modern one, with a weather station, a drip irrigation system, safety camera’s and protection screens against hail, wind and too much sun. Standing in this orchard, he said: ‘Look there, a few miles from here, a compound of Russian soldiers; every day they intimidate Georgian citizens with replacing the border with some meters in our direction.’
The second fruit grower first had a career in the town. When he became unemployed, he went back home with his wife and two children and started on 4 ha of his parents’ farm with fruit and nuts. In the last ten years he succeeded to buy and hire more land and now he has nearly 20 ha of apples, pears, peaches, strawberries, raspberries, almonds, walnuts. He uses an old empty house of an uncle as a storage facility. His eyes twinkle when he shows us his record-keeping books. He learned this in a project called GeoGap, organised by the GFA and aimed at a quality standard necessary to sell the products to the market (retail, restaurants in the country and the export market).
Both fruit-growers are very proud on their achievements and give the GFA the credits for supporting them and their colleagues with lobbying, educational programmes and connecting the farmers at regional level, the demonstration fields and matchmaking in grants for innovation. The first farmer was actively engaged in the GFA and had a key-position in the Fruit Growers Association; the second farmer was not even aware of his membership of the GFA. ‘I never paid a fee’, he said.
We had an interview with Asmat Lali Meski, chairwoman and executive director of the Wheat Growers Association. She established this association in 2017, with the aim of safeguarding and conserving the tradition of wheat cultivation in Georgia. Protecting, multiplying and saving indigenous varieties of wheat, as well as preserving one of the world’s earliest authentic bread baking techniques. The wheat culture in Georgia is one of the oldest in the world and is included in the national list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. In 2020 the 45 small and medium sized farmers of the Wheat Growers Association produce about 60 ha of traditional varieties of wheat of organic quality. One of the wheat varieties (Tsiteli doli) is recognised by the Slow Food Movement as an authentic regional product that has to be protected. With the bread festival, the results of seed production and their courses on baking and selling traditional bread, the Wheat Growers Association has built a good reputation in a few years’ time.
Asmat Lali Meski had a lot of experience in working for international organisations. When she heard about the rich tradition of wheat culture and the existence of some endemic varieties, she dreamed of a specialised organisation of wheat growers and of a restoration of this wheat and baking culture. How to start? After she saw the GFA’s chairwoman Nino on television, she knew she should get in touch with the GFA and talk about opportunities and facilities. And this is exactly what happened. The GFA decided to cooperate and facilitate: share meeting rooms for free, help to register the new association, make invitations for education programmes, to connect with different stakeholders in the network and to help by getting market access (special restaurants and shops). The Wheat Growers Association became a member of the GFA and now has its own board. ‘It is a dead horse’ Asmat Lali Meski says, when talking about the services by the governments in the regions. The GFA knows the farmers’ needs and is better equipped to help farmers with (paid) services’.