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Georgia develops software to monitor local food market prices

As Georgia continues to revitalize its agricultural sector, farmers and policymakers will soon have a new and innovative tool at their fingertips. A new online program designed by local software engineers will allow Georgians to monitor local prices for one hundred agricultural and food products in markets throughout the country.

Up-to-date statistics on local food prices – everything from maize and hazelnuts to dill and Imeretian cheese – will help rural families and farmers’ associations ensure that their production is in line with market trends. Small farms, often with few resources and little growth potential, will gain access to valuable information that could lead to new economic opportunities.

“The marketing information system will be vital tool for domestic production and internal trade,” said Levan Alibegashvili, FAO’s policy advisor for the project. “It gives producers insight into market demand while providing policymakers with a tool to ensure fair and stable food prices for consumers.”

The web-based platform was developed with funding from the European Union under the European Neighbourhood Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development. It is just one part of a comprehensive project to provide Georgia’s Ministry of Agriculture with technical assistance that will bolster its ability to craft and implement smart rural development policies.

Between 2000 and 2007, the Georgian Ministry of Agriculture reduced its staff by 87 percent, leaving many essential responsibilities unfulfilled. But since 2011, the government has given priority to investment in agriculture as the cornerstone of its economy. By adopting the marketing information system, the Ministry will produce solid agricultural information and further develop its workforce’s skills.   “The software is an opportunity to standardize the government’s statistics, ensuring that data is gathered simultaneously and using the same methodology throughout the country,” said Alibegashvili.

Last week, teams from the Ministry of Agriculture began visiting local markets across Georgia to interview sellers and record the price of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, livestock and more. The data will be entered weekly into the new system, making the latest price-related information available to users across the country.

Most Georgians will be able to access the online system a year from now, when enough data has been collected to reveal price trends. But the Ministry of Agriculture will be able to access the early data immediately, allowing policymakers to begin shaping Georgia’s rural development strategy around sound statistics.

To prepare the Ministry’s staff for this initiative, FAO partnered with the International School of Economics at Tbilisi State University to train the hundred data-collectors who will populate the system with price information from every region.

Staff training sessions first covered collection methodology – in other words, how, when, and where to collect accurate market price information. The Ministry’s team also learned how to approach field work, from asking vendors the right questions to recording products missing from the market. They also received an overview of the software’s price information collection and reporting features.

FAO and the programmers fine-tuned the software and methodology based on the Ministry staff’s feedback during the piloting period. The final product is a simple and intuitive system, developed by Georgians and tailor-made for Georgia.

23 March 2015, Tbilisi, Georgia

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