A joint effort: Blueberry days in Georgia
“Fresh air, the smell of soil, and a seasonal harvest are everyday joys of a farmer,” says Tengiz Mikeladze, a resident of the remote village of Buturauli.
Mikeladze is one of those people who was born to be a farmer. He wakes up early, listens to his seedlings, and tirelessly removes the weeds for a better harvest. Every new leaf makes his heart swell. Not long ago, he teamed up with his cousins and is now the proud owner of the 3,000 square metre blueberry farm.
Tengiz’s home village is in mountainous Ajara, one of the most densely populated regions of Georgia.
Except a narrow Black Sea coastline, the territory consists of hills, rocks, and forest. High population density, steep slopes, and a lack of arable land create serious obstacles for sustainable agriculture development.
“We used to grow potatoes but our yields never exceeded 400 kilograms. Now we have shifted to blueberries, which I believe have an outstanding growth potential,” says Mikeladze.
This shift was largely inspired by efforts made in the European Union Neighbourhood Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development (ENPARD).
Kicked off in 2013, it aims to boost the agricultural potential of Georgia, increase food production, and eradicate rural poverty. ENPARD lends a helping hand to the small farmers by assisting them in establishing profit-oriented unions and gaining access to consultations.
“Let’s face it – successful farming today is all about modern technology, education, and business skills. That’s why we focus on advisory, consultation, and extension services to local farmers,” says Sophie Kemkhadze, Deputy Head of UNDP in Georgia.
As such, the Mikeladze family land plot was subjected to soil analysis to measure its fertility and acidity. Then they were provided with the seedlings and assisted in arranging a proper irrigation system.
On a sunny meadow, 1,000 blueberry seedlings portend high yields for the Mikeladze family – up to five tonnes of berries.
Why a co-op?
The Mikeladze blueberry plot is one of the first attempts in Ajara to set up an agricultural cooperative. With assistance from ENPARD, local farmers are weighing the risks and benefits of joining.
Agricultural cooperatives are a common practice worldwide. In this set-up, farmers can pool their resources for greater benefits and economic efficiency
In 2013, the law on agricultural ooperatives was introduced in Georgia. A year later, there are already 86 officially registered unions, and many more in the pipeline.
“In Georgia, there still exists a prejudice towards cooperatives as the rural people often identify them with the kolkhoz of Soviet times,’’ says Juan Echanove, agriculture attaché at the European Union Delegation to Georgia. ”The cooperatives are radically different. Such communities are founded voluntarily and governed by democratic principles.”
Agricultural cooperatives generate new employment opportunities, help to consolidate production and increase potential for product realization and export. According to Sophie Kemkhadze, "it is all about creating opportunities, promoting knowledge and supporting cooperation for the benefit of all.“
For Tengize Mikeladze, the farmer from Buturauli, it makes perfect sense:
“Why work alone when you can get more benefits by joining the others? One head is good, but two and three are better. I believe that hard work always pays back and our joint efforts will soon bring real results.”