Issue 1, 2018. February-March



Georgian Agriculture Minister Levan Davitashvili speaks about the measures in place to protect farmers and crops from the Asian Stink Bug this year and details the Ministry's plans to develop the country's agriculture sector and to adapt to its expanded environmental protection duties in 2018.

Lika Jorjoliani

There was no shortage of success stories for Georgian agriculture last year, as the country increased the quality and quantity of its agricultural exports to Europe-and beyond. In addition, the portfolio of the Ministry was expanded to include environmental protection.

2017 also brought its own challenges, however, largely in the form of the Asian stink bug, which decimated crops in western Georgia before making its way east toward the capital and Kakheti, the heart of Georgian wine country.

Today, however, the Georgian Ministry of Agriculture is armed with a strategy and the funds to battle the stink bugs- and it is committed to a strategy to bolster farmers in communities and collectives around the country, Agriculture and Environmental Protection Minister Levan Davitashvili told

A New Enemy

Asian stink bugs were a new challenge for Georgian farmers in 2017, infesting crops in western Georgia and destroying harvests in breakaway Abkhazia as well as Samegrelo and Guria.

Davitashvili noted that the country learned a lot from the experience, which was the first time the stink bugs had been observed in Georgia.

"The Government of Georgia developed a project, 'Strategy for fighting against stink bugs in 2018,' which delineates three main directives: an active informational campaign, large-scale monitoring, and preventive measures (chemical processing)," he said.

The Georgian Finance Ministry has allocated 35 million lari to combat the Asian stink bug problem, funds that have been spent on pesticides and the necessary equipment to deliver it to farmers. Spraying will start in 2018, the Minister said, noting that Asian stink bugs will likely start being visible in April.

International donors, including the U.S. government's USAID and the EU, have contributed funding for tractors and spraying equipment, he said.

In addition, the Ministry has unveiled a monitoring program and is working through various international formats to help farmers in Abkhazia. While the de facto republic is not currently under Tbilisi's control, the people living there are "still our citizens," Davitashvili noted, and every effort is being made to help them.

He added that, since the stink bugs do not have any natural predators in Georgia, the only way to get rid of them is through pesticides and proactive efforts on the ground to stop them from spreading.

To create new resources to help farmers, the Ministry has created a laboratory in the western province of Guria to "monitor parasites and biological enemies of the pest," Davitashvili said.

The lab started working this year.

Stronger Cooperatives, Younger Farmers

The Ministry is also tackling other challenges in the sector, including improving the competitiveness of Georgian products and creating employment in rural areas.

Currently, over 42 percent of the population is employed in the agricultural sector and lives in villages, Davitashvili noted, adding that the government is focused on developing local cooperatives to help improve the livelihoods of those in the rural populations.

"The key priority is the planning of cooperatives ... When we talk about technical assistance and increasing of qualifications in the sector, the government will have more benefits from working with an organized structure, than from [working with] individual farmers," he said. The Minister particularly noted ongoing work developing beekeeping cooperatives and cattle-breeding cooperatives.

"The unified agricultural project is continuing its work and is the key instrument of the state to assist the development of agriculture and entrepreneurs in villages. This project is designed for the long-term development of production in order to increase the competitiveness of the agricultural sector and the stable rise of production of high-quality products," Davitashvili said.

He added that part of the government's assistance includes credits for certain types of agricultural businesses, including processing plants, storage facilities and consolidation centers.

The Ministry is also working with international donors to develop the next generation of farmers and tackle a long-discussed problem: the country's deficit of agriculture specialists, ranging from farmers educated in modern farming practices to animal husbandry and forestry experts. Davitashvili said the Ministry is working with the Danish government on a program designed to fund "different projects for young farmers - women up to the age of 40 and men up to the age of 35."

In addition, the government is helping to create an agriculture park in the western province of Imereti.

"This region is rich with its traditions of organizing greenhouses. Processing, packaging, and storage of agricultural products is planned in the agricultural park," he said, noting that the park will become a logistics hub for Georgian products being exported abroad.

Creating a Database, the "Emerald Network"

The Ministry is also creating a registry of existing farms, which will play a vital role in the reform process, Davitashvili said. It will also help the Ministry's efforts to develop more efficient management of farmland.

The Ministry is also hard at work to adopt and grow into its new, expanded role in environmental protection.

Davitashvili said work is underway to strengthen the country's protected territories. "Currently we are studying territories which may become a part of the 'Emerald Network,' which will be an ecological network made up of territories of particular environmental importance," he said.

Other plans include strengthening the forestry code - and increasing the salaries of forest rangers as part of efforts to improve the protection and care of Georgia's forests.

In addition, the Ministry is working with UNESCO to include Georgia's Kolkheti National Park on the World Heritage List.