Time to sow - not protest05.06.2009 | 09:56
Georgian country people are least involved in the disobedience campaign initiated by the opposition forces. In spite of current pitiful state of the economy this sector has good prospects of growth. It's only necessary to find markets and investors for technological upgrade. Expert Nodar Khaduri comments on the situation in the agricultural industry.
While some Georgians idly sit in cages in Rustaveli Avenue and throw eggs near the Mayor's office others are working like beavers in farms, fields and gardens. Recently President Mikheil Saakashvili remarked the backbone of the protest rallies are the unemployed. And there are very few such people in villages. There aren't many agriculture companies but all villagers own household plots.
"It's not that they are not worried about political issues - just there is time of ploughing, there is time of sowing, and there is time of reaping the harvest in agriculture, - Nodar Khaduri, an economist, ex Deputy Finance Minister explained in his interview with Georgia Times.
According to the expert Georgia has a peculiar climate that can turn agriculture into a lucrative sector of economy. Khaduri is not sure about possibilities to revive tea growing but other traditional activities as winegrowing or citrus production have a good potential, he believes. The same with exotic bay leaf and nut growing.
By the way there is Laurus company (Georgia) established only three years ago growing bay leaf with the output of 170 tons of the product per year. The lion's share of the raw material - around 150 tons - is bought from local farmers. Now Laurus ships the spice to Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Kazakhstan and is explicit about its ambitious plans to make way to Europe, Business Georgia reports. "We must better comply with the European standards. At this stage our products are below European norms, - the company states with regret. The problem is the out-of-date equipment.
Nut exporters of Georgia are hard up during the crisis. The banks don't grant new loans to them for buying nuts from farmers. And their internal resources are not enough for purchasing and repayment of outstanding debts. All this is due to sharp increase in exports to Asia and Europe (by 18%) at the end of last year and an even sharper drop this spring (by 35%). The problem is the lack of markets.
Nodar Khaduri believes these two reasons - outdated technologies and markets lost after the breach of relations with Russia - are main obstacles for agricultural development in Georgia.
Foreign investments are needed to reequip agricultural companies, replace tractors and harvesting machines. They gradually appear, Khaduri remarks. For example out of two billion of grants Western countries donated to Georgia under the resolution of the so-called donor conference on October 22 in Brussels part of them will be spent on modernization of the agricultural enterprises.
Georgian government and the companies are constantly working on market expansion. Nodar Khaduri thinks efficient promotion of Georgian products and sensible marketing will help Georgian wines, fruit and vegetables find their niche in Asia, Europe and the USA. "It is noteworthy in the Soviet times Georgian winemakers were oriented on production of white wines and now we have to switch over to red wines due to the changes in demand," - Khaduri added. By the way according to his information the reduction in vineyards has not taken place this year. Condemned by the press and church the government stopped encouraging cut of vines with monetary compensations.
In addition to the increase of agricultural exports the Georgian Ministry of Agriculture hopes to replace part of the imported products with the local ones.
Minister Bakur Kvezereli is sure that Georgians can perfectly grow potatoes, for instance. The high-ranking official made this statement a week ago at the potato harvesting in Nakhiduri village of Bolnissy district in Eastern Georgia. Is it real? Nodar Khaduri thinks: "Why not. Half of Georgia's population is villagers. Can't they support the other half? Besides potato imports are accompanied by potato exports to Turkey".
The situation with grain crops is worse in Georgia with the consumption rate amounting to 800 tons of wheat annually, 75% of which are imported, Business Georgia reports.
As Khaduri specifies the problem is in shortage of land for growing wheat. The majority of fields are in the east of Georgia with most of them remaining national property after the collapse of kolkhozes. This land is leased out to farmers. Now the government is working on the project to pass 10 000 ha of land to grow wheat and other grain crops to the Association of Grain Growers uniting 12 companies planning to build a grain mill. After the project is implemented local production of grain will grow by 40 000 tons which of course will not be enough to stop importing.
Such agricultural sectors as beekeeping and sheep breeding in the mountainous areas may also yield returns. The latter can be oriented on the exports to countries practicing Islam that don't consume pork meat, the expert believes.