AGROVOC country report - Georgia
Georgian economy, priorities, and food and agricultural production
The country’s agricultural sector accounts for more than 50 percent of the country’s labor force, and it plays an important part of its GDP. Nowadays, achieving sustainable development in the food and agricultural sector requires focusing on qualified human resources and enhancing knowledge-sharing on agricultural production. It also requires relevant communication methodologies, channels and tools among the people and organizations who are involved in food and agriculture.
Georgia as a developing country is struggling with these issues and this significantly impacts the economic well-being of the population. Sharing and using the information in Georgia’s food and agricultural sector is fundamental for increasing the knowledge and skills among the people and, consequently, for developing the food and agricultural sector of the country. Barriers are represented by poor advocacy, lack of awareness of the existing modern communication channels, tools and databases, as well as a lack of competency and training at educational organizations that should be promoting the use of such resources for a wider audience (AFDR and Geostat, 2021).
TECHINFORMI is one of the leading organizations striving to fill the gap between science and farmers, and is continuously seeking opportunities to enhance and deepen its contribution to developing and advocating visibility, accessibility and usability of agricultural data and science in Georgia.
Agriculture has always played a key role for Georgian social and economic sustainability, and strongly contributed to its economic development. It remains the main pillar of the economy of the country (see Figure 1), which has favorable soil resources and climate conditions for all types of agricultural production.
Georgian farmers have experience in a wide and diverse variety of agricultural activities. These factors, combined with agrobiodiversity and local food systems, interact across multiple dimensions. According to Geostat, around 659 000 people are engaged in the agriculture of Georgia, most of whom work on their own farms. The average household owns 1.14 hectares of land (Geostat, 2021). Small land holding hinders the development of large-scale agricultural production, and it is the main driver of poverty for the people employed in agriculture as well as the low level of labor productivity. The total area of agricultural land in Georgia is about 788 000 hectares.
For this reason, despite having wide state support and funding from the European Neighbourhood Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development (ENPARD) and the higher rate of labour force participating in agriculture, the share of Georgian agriculture makes up about 7.7 percent of the national GDP. About GEL 1.5 billion has already been spent from the state budget on agricultural development, and the average growth rate of agriculture was 1.5 percent; three times lower than the average growth rate of the economy.
The main agricultural crops in Georgia are cereals, early and late vegetables, potatoes, annual crops, grapes, subtropical fruits and a variety of other vegetables. Georgia is also one of the oldest wine-producing places in the world. There are 12 different microclimatic zones and 49 types of soils. Many endemic species create a perfect source for the development of plant growing, cattle breeding and alpine farming, and the country is rich in water resources. The leading agricultural sub-sectors in Georgia are fruits and vegetables (fresh, dried or frozen), fruit and vegetable processing, organic farming, walnut production, berry production, the oil plant industry, livestock production and wine. Processing is one of the most important and attractive investment categories.
Equipment and technology are required for the storage, packaging and long-distance transportation of fresh products, as well as for drying or instant freezing, canning and the production of ingredients and additives. Other opportunities include irrigation; packaging and processing; packaging and sorting equipment and other agricultural machinery; as well as production, trade of planting materials and agribusiness leasing.
There is an increasing demand for organic products, creating opportunities for organic farming especially in high-mountain and alpine regions. Other opportunities include services for product quality and safety standards at wineries, re-equipping of wineries, vineyard replanting and expansion of wineries into the tourism industry.
Food and agriculture research
Agriculture is a priority sector for the government, but imported food and food products still prevail on the Georgian market. Local farmers need to revitalize the country’s agricultural sector, and this requires increased state budgetary allocations and agricultural interventions that will be effective. In Georgia, 5-14.9 percent of the local population suffers from hunger, malnutrition and undernourishment, according to the World Food Program (Hunger Map 2019). Increased donor aid to develop the agricultural sector of Georgia would contribute to poverty alleviation and ending hunger.
Georgia is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and has most-favoured nation (MFN) status with member countries. Georgia also has Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) agreements with Canada, Norway, Japan, Switzerland and the United States of America (the GSP is a preferential tariff system which provides tariff reduction on various products.). It has free trade agreements with Turkey and Ukraine, and preferential access to most countries of the former Soviet Union. Georgia has a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) agreement with the European Union (EU),which implies that agricultural products exported from Georgia will easily reach EU markets (EC, 2015).
While agrobiodiversity essentially supports primary food production activities, in Georgia these activities are also major drivers of biodiversity and ecosystem losses. Preservation of agrobiodiversity must play a vital role in ensuring the health of our ecosystems, climate and environment. Agrobiodiversity preservation also has an opportunity to contribute to poverty reduction. However, it can also create challenges for more sustainable possibilities, as well as challenges between preserving biodiversity and reducing poverty. The livestock sector in Georgia would benefit from more government support for improvements. The number of cattle have decreased, as has the production of meat and milk.
The role of libraries
To strengthen the agricultural sector and the related food supply chain in Georgia, it is necessary to implement new actions such as distance learning for remote regions, and to provide external education and digital libraries. The needs of local farmers, agricultural cooperatives and family farms or young farmers need to be met, as well as their ability to acquire new skills. Agricultural researchers, however, experience a lack of governmental funding and support. The Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak and worldwide lockdowns equally affected Georgian food supply chains and markets, and halted many economic activities.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic poses serious challenges to agricultural and food systems, it is, at the same time, a unique opportunity to accelerate transformations in the sector and to build its resilience to a range of challenges. Due to the constant need for food and changes in consumer spending patterns, agriculture might outperform other sectors of the economy hit by the pandemic. In order to ensure that all the opportunities are captured and to unlock additional growth, existing market systems should be quickly improved.
Farmers in Georgia play an essential role in supporting local food production, creating seasonal and full-time jobs, and driving economic development in rural areas. Farmers are indispensable as managers of the environment and ecosystems in Georgia, because they ensure there is safe and nutritious food, produce biomass, keep the soil healthy and contribute to preserving biodiversity. They must be aware of the fact that cooperation with other actors and stakeholders will allow them to succeed in overcoming poverty, achieving food and nutrition safety, fighting climate change, and protecting and enhancing agrobiodiversity.
The pandemic crisis has highlighted the need for agricultural market reforms and digital solutions to connect farmers to markets and create safety networks. It is important to ensure food safety and quality using blockchain technologies, to make food production more transparent and traceable, and to decentralize food systems in order to make them more resilient and meet SDG priorities.
Digitalization of libraries, new research fields and deep analysis in agriculture may be helpful for speeding the general digitalization process, delayed by the pandemic. Digital and national libraries can be useful in raising awareness about food safety risks and agricultural technologies in general. Blockchain technologies can be used to track food production in a chain and increase its transparency. Agricultural publications, open data and digital platforms can provide the best methodological guidelines for the evaluation of national agriculture policy, food systems, agroecology and the food supply chain.
Civil societies in Georgia, represented by organizations such as GODAN, AGRIVI, and SmartAgriHubs , have a crucial role in using science, technology and innovation to achieve sustainable and resilient COVID-19 recovery and the SDGs. The knowledge-driven programmes and e-learning platforms are crucial for national agriculture and for recognizing and engaging the civil society organizations and communities as critical partners in handling such tasks.
They need to create demand and accountability for sectoral research and knowledge generation, depository, dissemination, monitoring and evaluation. Libraries can facilitate networking and exchanges within scientific communities and foster a science-society dialogue by supporting the incentives for agricultural policies and necessary reforms. The increasing use of digital technology in agriculture can initiate a major transformation: better services and products, innovations, enhanced decision making, and increased profitability and productivity.
Farmers can use innovative technologies to reduce waste and increase sustainability at the beginning of the food chain. When tracking the level of food insecurity at the national level, it is necessary to understand the scale of the problem, and trends across time. The data collection, data aggregation and data ownership at the local area level is essential to address food insecurity and its impacts. This raises several questions: How is food insecurity measured at the local level? Who is involved in collecting these data? How are these data used? Most importantly, where are the gaps and what data do local area partners need in order to effectively intervene and support households and individuals who are experiencing food insecurity?
In this context, there are various possibilities to perform agricultural research and increase the role of libraries and digital agriculture:
- invest in information and training, particularly for family farms and agricultural cooperatives, to increase the uptake of new digital technologies;
- ensure new environment-friendly farming methods and support the adoption of climate-resilient crops;
- increase research on how to help small-scale producers in water-scarce regions; and
- target types of research about improvements in the quantity and quality of livestock feed to small and medium-sized commercial farm models.
All these initiatives will drastically reduce transaction costs and pervasive information asymmetries that plague the agrifood system. The libraries and open data platforms will collect all necessary data in an automated way through the combination of sensors or advanced processing stations. The application of data processing techniques on external sources and the addition of data by the farmer will reduce production costs, optimize farming methods (fertilizers, irrigation, pathogen control, harvest season, physiological adaptation of the crop to weather conditions) and certify the quality of food and the sustainability of agricultural production.
The digital and innovative transformation of the agrifood system in Georgia may demonstrate how digital technologies can accelerate the transformation of the agrifood system by increasing efficiency on the farm; improving farmers’ access to output, input and financial markets; strengthening quality control and traceability; and improving the design and delivery of agriculture policies. It may also identify a key role of the public sector in maximizing the benefits of this process while minimizing its risks through an innovation ecosystem featuring open datasets, digital platforms, digital entrepreneurship, digital payment systems, digital skills – and by encouraging adoption of innovative technologies. This challenge may identify and promote new and innovative concepts, ideas and tools in agricultural advisory services and extension that have the potential to spread agroecological approaches widely.