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The land

It is largely mountainous (Great and Lesser Caucasus) with lowlands and river basins. According to Koeppen’s classification, the climate is generally temperate, with the Mediterranean variant on the Black Sea coast. Rainfall ranges from 300 mm in the east of the country, to well over 1 000 mm in the west.

Arable land and permanent crops cover 1.1 million ha, of which 0.5 million ha is under irrigation; pastures cover 1.9 million ha; and forests cover 3.0 million ha. The main agricultural products are maize, wheat, citrus, grape, vegetables, potatoes and livestock.

Other indicators

Labour force participation ratio of women to men was 0.9 in 1998. Average daily available calories per caput in 1995-97 was 2 566, with significant year-to-year fluctuations.

Food import dependency has accounted for about 50% of basic needs. Registered food, beverages and tobacco imports account for 15-20% of total registered imports. As a result of conflicts, Georgia still has about 280 000 internally displaced people, and in November 1999 it was one of the 34 countries with shortfalls in food supplies requiring exceptional and/or emergency assistance.

Agricultural exports include limited quantities of fruit, tea, potatoes and tobacco.

Agricultural sector

Transition to a market economy has been partial and sometimes stalled. Lack of access to markets (partly due to the high cost of fuel), scarcity of rural credit, as well as limited off-farm earnings, have driven farmers to near-subsistence economy, with a major shift towards staple crops (wheat, potatoes and maize) and away from barley and fodder crops, which has affected the quality and volume of livestock output. This has also reduced the size of the planted area. Despite some liberalization of prices and trade, there is unfair competition, illegal imports and poor law enforcement.

National agricultural policy

A strategy is required that covers the whole of Georgian agriculture. A Land Lease Law is expected to promote positively a market for leasing and thus for agricultural production. Despite reforms, the government remains involved in economic activities, including trade and the supply of inputs (notably machinery, fertilizers, seed and credit) to farmers. Marketing of produce surplus to household needs is both difficult and expensive.

Land tenure

Land privatization has been progressing slowly. By April 1999, 918 000 ha had been transferred to 1 026 000 rural households, while 825 000 ha had been leased to 46 000 entities. Large areas remain neither leased nor privatized. Land tenure law and security of land ownership are poorly defined and many farmers lack the necessary documentation for their plots.

Farm structure remains a mix of very small fragmented plots in private ownership. Typical farm sizes, particularly in the west of the country, are small, at about 1.25 ha. At least they are fully cultivated, which is not the case of large farms, which tend to be underutilized due to lack of credit.

Agricultural inputs

Levels of investment in farms are generally low. Reasonably priced credit is unavailable. Delays in the registration of land has prevented farmers from using land as collateral for loans. For lack of cash, barter is widely used.

The labour force is excessive, and much machinery is in poor condition. The irrigation infrastructure needs to be repaired and re-organized to take account of the need of small farms. The availability of power remains erratic. A severe drop in the use of fertilizers and fuel (due to their cost) and an increased use (to 90%) of poor quality farm-saved seed (FSS) have influenced crop yields. Loss of farmer expertise in seed production, poor machinery and lack of herbicides and spare parts was also reported. However some improvements in the availability of inputs and in the rehabilitation of the irrigation system were reported in 1999.

Donor support

Several aid agencies are operating in Georgia, either through multidisciplinary projects or through initiatives addressing specific issues.

Seed sector

The seed sector of Georgia was reviewed in 1998 through an FAO Technical Cooperation Project (TCP/GEO/6711) Preparation of a National Seed Industry Development Programme, which found that the seed industry of Georgia had collapsed, because farmers, as well as government and neighbouring countries, lacked financial resources to buy seed; thus there was no market. From independence and civil war, seed farms had no access to reasonably priced credit for working capital. In other words, seed farms became “privatized by default,” because they could not obtain resources from the state as they used to do, and because there had been no maintenance and replacement of equipment.

Regulatory services had also practically ceased to function, with the result that the quality of seed produced had deteriorated (most of the FSS was of fifth and more generations, very mixed and with poor germination and vigour). Much seed was sold with either incorrect or no certificates.

Breeding activities were at a standstill; salaries were low and paid late, and many of the younger staff had left the industry for better employment. In the cereal sector, there was an imbalance between the primary seed (Super Elite and Elite) and commercial seed production sectors. The latter was well developed, consisting of some 11 large state or collective seed farms. The primary sector (breeding and selection) was comparatively undersized: it produced only limited amounts of seed, which had to be multiplied several times to satisfy demand, with a loss of quality and delay in new varieties reaching the farmers. The large collective farms (not privatized but available for lease), although provided with large land areas suitable for seed production, seemed to have ceased to function.

In the circumstances, the project made a series of recommendations on the entire sector, including breeding, testing, production, inspection and certification, training and technical assistance. It underlined the role of the government in promoting the seed industry, acting as a regulator and facilitator, without taking the risk of seed production. The recommendations included the establishment and/or consolidation of certain institutional entities (e.g. a National Seed Council) with specific roles assigned and the improvement of proposed legislation (including the draft Seed Law).

The Law on the Protection of Selection Achievements prepared by the Ministry of Agriculture was subsequently reviewed by the Council of UPOV, which concluded that, subject to the adoption of appropriate regulations, it could provide the basis for an Act conforming to the UPOV Convention.

Seed processing, storage and supply

Most seed used by farmers is untreated FSS and genetically highly variable, contaminated with seedborne diseases and weeds, and generally poor in terms of germination and vigour. The quality of the seed in the pipeline, from much-recycled Breeder seed to Elite seed, is also quite variable. There are no perceivable markets for the seed producers to sell their seed. On the one hand, seed prices are quite high when compared with international norms (even FSS is selling at 2.5 to 3 times the grain price), but on the other hand, excess seed is often sold for grain.

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