Irina Vasilyeva, a female farmer from Western Georgia, is a living example of how access to technical knowledge and innovation can empower smallholder farmers to become agents of change.
Entire families in Irina’s ancient village of Vartsikhe, Bagdati municipality have been involved in farming for centuries. Her husband and two children have also managed to earn a livelihood from agriculture, however as COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on tourism and restaurant businesses increased last year, Irina struggled in vain to sell her produce at a market in Kutaisi, the main city in Western Georgia.
Things have changed thanks to FAO’s and the EU’s support and new Farmer Field Schools and demonstration plots in the area have brought innovative farming methods to Irina’s village.
“I heard that FAO agronomists were visiting a seedling production facility nearby, so I attended the meeting and showed them my records. I always record what I do on my farm and I told them that I wanted to learn how to improve the quality of my crops,” Irina said, describing how she first got involved with FAO.
Irina learnt that modern agricultural practices – drip irrigation, mulching and beds formation - could greatly improve the production of cucumbers, tomatoes and salad herbs in her three greenhouses.
“I didn’t know my plants were using so much fertilizer. With drip irrigation and better calculations, I use less now. It’s a serious cost saving measure,” she said. Costs are crucial, especially for female farmers in Georgia, who wish to establish an independent source of income.
Now, Irina can produce lettuce in winter without greenhouse heating. Off-season production allows her to avoid competition, while high-quality produce and reduced costs has helped her to overcome the hardships of the pandemic.
More local women in the village are now moving into agriculture to supplement family income. FAO selected Irina’s plot as a demonstration plot for agricultural training and as a food hero, she is actively sharing her knowledge and experience.