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Geography, climate and population
Georgia has a total area of 69 700 km2. It is located in the Caucasus region and is bordered by the Russian Federation to the north and northeast, Azerbaijan to the southeast, Armenia and Turkey to the south, and the Black Sea to the west for a distance of 309 km. For administrative purposes, the country is divided into 11 regions (comprising some 67 districts) plus the capital city Tbilisi. It declared independence from the Soviet Union in April 1991.
The country can be divided into three physiographic regions: mountains covering about 54 percent of the total area, highlands about 33 percent, and valleys some 13 percent. The Caucasus Mountains form Georgia’s northern boundary, their highest peak standing some 5 000 m above sea level. About 70 percent of the country lies below 1 700 m above sea level. Cropping is possible throughout the country up to 2 000 m. At higher altitudes, there are only pastures.
The total cultivable area, which according to Georgian statistics is equal to the agricultural area, was estimated in 1996 at some 3 million ha, or 43 percent of the country. About 2.2 million ha are forest, which, under the 1978 Forest Code, cannot be transformed into agricultural cropped areas. A process of land privatization has been under way since the end of the Soviet period. Agricultural production is generally small-scale, but commercial farming is progressively gaining importance. Of the total 3 million ha of agricultural land, some 0.7 million ha are owned and cultivated by private farmers; 0.3 million ha have been leased to farmers for short-term (3–5 years), medium-term (25 years) or long-term (49 years) periods; and 2 million ha are still owned by the state. Most of the state agricultural land is not cultivated. Only about 30 percent is rented, mainly due to the complicated orography, poor soil, distance from habited areas, and damaged irrigation and drainage systems.
In 2005, the total cultivated area was estimated at 1.07 million ha, of which 802 000 ha consisted of annual crops and 264 000 ha of permanent crops (Table 1). Water and wind erosion, environmentally degrading agricultural practices and other anthropogenic and natural processes have led to an almost 35 percent degradation of farmland (Government of Georgia, 2002).
Georgia, with an average rainfall of 1 065 mm/year, can be divided into two climatic regions:
- West Georgia, which has a subtropical humid climate, with mild winters and not very hot summers. The average precipitation is estimated at between 1 100 and 1 700 mm/year. Drainage of excess water is one of the main problems for agriculture in this part of the country. Average temperatures vary between 5 °C in January and 22 °C in July.
- East Georgia, which has a subtropical dry climate, with fairly cold winters and arid, hot summers. The average precipitation varies between 500 and 1 100 mm/year. About 80 percent of the rainfall occurs from March to October, while the longest dry period is about 50–60 days. Drought years are common. Hail occurs in spring and autumn. There is a need for irrigation in the areas where precipitation is less than 800 mm/year. Average temperatures vary between -1 °C in January and 22 °C in July.
The total population is estimated at 4.47 million (2005), of which 48.5 percent is rural. The average population density is 64 inhabitants/km2 (Table 1). Before independence, the population growth rate was about 1 percent per year, but since 1991 the growth has been negative. During the period 1992–2000 it was -1.5 percent and during the period 2000–2005 -1.1 percent.
In 2006, 93 percent of the population had access to improved sanitation (94 and 92 percent in urban and rural areas respectively) and 99 percent to improved water sources (100 and 97 percent in urban and rural areas, respectively).