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The Baboyans from Village Kush

Armenians have been living in Kvemo Kartli for centuries. According to the 2002 census 31,777 out of 497,530 Kvemo Kartli residents were Armenians. The number of Armenians is highest in Tsalka where 11,484 Armenians live, out of a total population of 20977. The advent of Armenians in Georgia was related to the movement of people during the Arab, Turk-Seljuk, Mongolian, Turkmen, Kizilbash, Ottoman Turk and other invasions. Several major settlements of Armenians took place in 1828-1829, during the Russian-Turkish war

There is a bumpy road leading to the village of Kush in Tsalka Municipality over a damaged bridge that has a big hole in it. The village appears rather neglected and so it was a nice surprise to arrive at the well-kept, clean and tidy home of the Baboyans. They have hot water in the kitchen and a “city-style” bathroom and toilet. The Baboyans are a family of farmers. Lena, the eldest woman in the family, is a mother and grandmother and worked for the majority of her working life in a field-brigade at the local collective farm. Her husband, Askharabek, born in 1929, also worked there as a tractor operator from his childhood. Lena is worried about her husband. In the house, Ashkharabek was lying on the sofa, covered with a blanket. He was not feeling well and so Lena was bringing warm bricks to place on his legs to make him feel better. He complains that his long-term service has not been recognised by the government. Pensions are low, he added, and no one has even said a word of thanks to him for his many years of hard work. Moreover, he is sick now and cannot afford medical treatment. Unlike her husband, Lena kept silent for most of our visit and only cautiously tried to stop Ashkarabek’s complaints. She herself has had her share of hard work in her life. She raised three children: her daughter Marina (born in 1960) and sons Matevos (1961) and Manvel (1963) and at the same time she worked on the collective farm. She remembers the farm work with nostalgia, saying it was good and cheerful, and that she had her own money. 

Marina, her daughter is of the same opinion. She lives with her husband and children in Krasnodar, Russia. Marina is the only member of the family fluent in Russian. She also recalls the past with nostalgia when the village was bigger and better and village life was more interesting.

Marina graduated from the Hydro and Land Reclaim Technical College in Yerevan and has always worked in her specialisation although she was moved to reception duties as she got closer to retirement. She thinks it would be great if a collective or state farm is set up in the village again. She highlighted the opportunity once provided for village women to get out of the house and to go to work and earn wages paid every month which would be their own money to be spent as they wished.

Now the family grows potatoes and sells milk, eggs and cheese at the local Saturday market. Any spare income is saved for the education of the children. The granddaughter Lena and her brother Oganez are both recipients of this investment in their futures by their family. Lena, named after her grandmother is 22 years old and has recently graduated from the Yerevan Pedagogical Institute and has returned to Kush. There is no job for her, however, as the local school is already fully staffed with teachers. She is contemplating what to do next and thinking about training to become a hair stylist. Her studies in Yerevan cost her family, at conservative estimates, at least 5,000 Lari. This is only for the rent of an apartment in Yerevan because tuition was free-of-charge since Lena managed to register in the non-paying sector. Oganez, her brother, is also in Yerevan where he is currently a student of economics but he is in the fee-paying sector. His education will cost the family much more. Oganez’s four-year degree programme in economics will cost 14,000 Lari — a little less than 10,000 US dollars.

Lena’s son Manvel is the only one from Lena’s family without a special education and so he works as a tractor operator, like his father. Nazik, his wife is from the neighbouring village of Nadrevani, she married Manvel at an early age and did not continue her education after graduating school which she still regrets. This reinforces her desire to provide her with children higher education which is highly respected by everyone in the family. It seems that they are working exclusively to raise the significant amounts of money required for this purpose.

Manvel has his own tractor and he earns money by fulfilling orders for fellow villagers. There are many orders but not everyone can afford to pay. But Manvel continues to do the work and keeps records of the amounts receivable in a notebook. The family has only two cows and so they do not have much milk to sell. They do, however, have a lot of potatoes. However, this year has not been lucky for the potatoes with buyers not yet coming to the village, so the potatoes are being stored in the cellar. The price of potatoes is 30 Tetri per kilogram. Retail prices in Tbilisi are three times as high. Unfortunately, the lack of a buyer or wholesaler network means that they may be wasted.

According to Marina and her niece many school graduates strive to continue their education, going mainly to Armenia and Russia. Very few of them go to Tbilisi due to the lack of knowledge of the Georgian language. Lena said that she would gladly go to live and work in Tbilisi but the language problem is stopping her as she speaks neither Georgian nor Russian.

This is a real problem for the young people. There are very limited opportunities for employment in the village and limited knowledge of what could be achieved, for example, in small business. Older women would be willing to do something but their imagination does not go beyond their past experiences on the collective farm. Younger women lack information and the avenues to acquire skills and start-up capital are very limited if no absent. There are only two private micro enterprises in the village: a shop and a gas station. Both are owned by men. There are no women-run businesses at all. However every week in Kush there is a barter market operates where goods from lower altitudes such as grapes and oil are exchanged via wholesalers for those from the locality such as cheese and as women make cheese and know what is required by the family they are more involved in the barter trade than men.

At 22 the issue of marriage is becoming relevant for young Lena. As there are no suitable marriage candidates for a girl with education, many young women are leaving the village for bigger towns and cities. However, in Kush it is customary for young women to marry fellow villagers. Sometimes, men marry and bring women from far-away places to the village but the women marry local men. However, the women of the family said that ethnic villages have little interaction even in farming. Their isolation is very strong and is intensified at times, by dislike. People that have lived here for many generations do not like migrants from Svaneti and Ajara.

Lena’s family in Kush is a hard-working and friendly one which values and works towards self-development and education of the next generation, although this is a future far from certain. On the one hand, the family sacrifices the interests of its older members in favour of the younger ones and invests all its efforts in their future. On the other hand, this future has little promise in Kush. The education that the family gives to its younger generation through such hard work often can only be capitalized upon if the children move away. Lena and her husband are perhaps deeply concerned not only because of the built up weariness due to the hard work and sacrifice but also because of the subconscious realisation that real opportunities for the young can only be found elsewhere.

OTHER NEWS
20/09/2020
Garden Supports Local Business Development

Manana Dumbadze was one of fifteen guesthouse owners from Keda, Shuakhevi and Khulo invited to attend an educational seminar hosted by the Goderdzi Alpine Garden (GAG) on September 18th on how biodiversity, conversation and Jara beekeeping can be used for business promotion and attracting more tourists.

‘The seminar was interesting and will motivate me to generate new ideas. I am arranging a garden in front of my house and I received information about plants. The GAG promised to help me to do it.  I have beehives but I’m thinking of switching to Jara beekeeping, because it will be more interesting to our visitors, as it carries a traditional value.’ Manana Dumbadze, a guesthouse owner.

The seminar participants agreed on further coordination and information dissemination among others.

‘I am planning to have a Jara apiary from the next year. I will also include the GAG on our tour. I have a small cottage on the Goderdzi Pass, and I am planning to have visitors there.’ Nodar Shervashidze, a guesthouse owner.

Representatives of the Batumi Botanical Garden (BBG) and specialists from the BBG’s Local Flora and Conservation Department will continue educational seminars for teachers and school students in the upcoming year. The GAG is developing its role in wild flora conservation and eco-education with seminars and a beekeeping area, aiming to publicize the value conservation and traditional Jara beekeeping can have for sustainable local development and teach people interested in taking it up.

Officially opened in July, 2020, the GAG has already attracted sixteen thousand visitors since the opening, making it  the prominent tourist destination in mountainous Ajara.

08/09/2020
Emili Investigates ► the Georgian Milk Mark

Emili is a young girl who has become an internet sensation in Georgia.  Her YouTube channels Emili TV  and Emili Family TV reach 708,000 subscribers. She regularly shares educational and entertainment content, including films about products she likes, many parents and their children watch her shows and follow her recommendations. Through ALCP facilitation, she (and her production team) decided to ‘investigate’ the Georgian Milk Mark. 

The Georgian Milk Mark (GMM) films (on Emili TV and Emili Family TV) have reached 360,000 views just in two weeks.


03/09/2020
Jara Audience Grows

Traditional Jara beekeeping has reached a new audience through a report on Al Jazeera English and its Youtube Channel, with an audience of forty million in Gulf States alone. The report was developed in Ajara with assistance of the Jara Beekeepers Association (JBA), telling stories of female and male Jara beekeepers, emphasizing commercialization and future opportunities for Jara honey.

31/08/2020
Honey Grabs Top Official Interest

The Prime Minister of Georgia, the Chairman of the Ajara Autonomous Republic, the Mayor of Tbilisi City, and other government officials visited the Agro-Keda factory in Keda to see the honey production and packaging process, along with other Nena production. The honey showcase, Jara hive, different types of Nena produced honey for tasting, and honey catalogues were their favorites. The Prime Minister asked questions related to honey export and took the catalogues to find more details about honey.


04/08/2020
Goderdzi Alpine Garden is Now Open

Located in Khulo, Ajara at 2000m above sea level, the Goderdzi Alpine Garden is now open. On Thursday, two hundred guests from government, municipal agencies, non-governmental and international organizations, travel agencies, scientists and botanists attended the opening ceremony.

Huge government support was there.

‘Opening of this natural monument will help Khulo municipality with further growth. We are working on the development of the local infrastructure. Those works together are increasing income for locals. My Special thanks to the Swiss Development and Cooperation Agency, Adjaristskalli LLC, and other organizations for making this project happen.’ – Tornike Rijvadze, the Chairman of the Ajara Autonomous Republic.

The Swiss Ambassador highlighted how natural treasure can positively impact local habitants, the means of quality-oriented tourism.

‘From the very beginning, we acknowledged the importance of the Goderdzi Alpine Garden not only for the region but also for Georgia at large. It is the initiative where eco-friendly tourism and agriculture are forcing each other for the benefit of rural settlers of the mountainous Ajara. It is also helping market with locally produced cheese, wild Jara honey and other local product.’ – Patric Franzen, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Switzerland to Georgia.

The Goderdzi Alpine Garden is an example of public-private cooperation.

‘Important thing about this is the sharing. We had a vision, we went to the Batumi Botanical Garden and shared this vision of taking this beauty and using it in the countryside so that all the people living here can also enjoy this vision. The opening of this garden is a symbol of positivity in a very negative time globally, a symbol of people getting together for something good.’ – Helen Bradbury, the ALCP Team Leader.

The main backer of the Goderdzi Alpine Garden is the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) through the Mercy Corps Georgia implemented Alliances Caucasus Programme (ALCP). The project is supported by the Hydropower Company Adjaristskali and the Government of Ajara Autonomous Republic. The garden is being developed with the backstopping of Munich and Lautaret Botanic Gardens

Follow the links on the opening of the Goderdzi Alpine Garden: Ajara TV, Imedi TV, Ajara Government FB, Ajara Tourism Department FB.


16/07/2020
Second Georgian Milk Mark (GMM) Dairy Export Cheese to USA


Last week, Tsivis Kveli Ltd in Kakheti distributed 250 kg different types of GMM cheese through the distribution company Georgian Imports in hypermarkets and cafés throughout Chicago. The dairy is now planning the next export in a few weeks. 

LATEST NEWS
The First International Agri Journalism Conference
14/04/2021
On April 13th, an online event of the Journalism Resource Center (JRC) International Conference in Agricultural Journalism and Agricultural Education brought together regional academic and media representatives from Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Ukraine. The enthusiasm for, dedication towards and interest in agri journalism and its importance for people and youth were striking. The Deputy Regional Director of the Swiss Cooperation Office (SCO) did the opening speech. The representatives from Georgia showed that they understand the demand for and are fully engaged in the media market for agri journalism.  ‘Agri journalism is an integrated course for bachelor’s students. After Training of Trainers for lecturers we will develop a separate course. We also see the demand from students. Cooperation with media and government agencies is crucial in this regard.’ - A representative from Brusov State University in Armenia. A freelance journalist from Baku talked about the usage of multimedia tools in agri journalism. The field of agri journalism is attractive but seems difficult to attain to media representatives from Moldova and Ukraine. A Producer of Volinsk Branch of National Public TV and Radio Company of Ukraine expressed his willingness to co-operate with the JRC to copy some activities related to agri journalism. ‘I am surprised by hearing about Georgia and Armenia, where agricultural education works so well’. - The LikTV Founder in Moldova, who empathized with the difficulties expressed by the representative of Ukraine and stated that universities in Moldova need to work on establishing agricultural journalism. The ALCP Team Leader spoke about the programme support for agri journalism development in an interview on Agrogaremo TV. An agri journalism course alumni shared his experience and motivation with the JRC. A short documentary video by the JRC tells us a story about agri journalism development.
Georgian Honey Export Expands
16/02/2021
Nena a honey export company has been exporting since 2019. Chestnut and Jara honey have been sold in twenty shops in New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey from January, 2021. Nena also exported Jara honey to Japan. And by the end of February, Bio Jara honey, a new product will be exported to the USA. Canada is a promising market and has repeated its order for the fourth time.
Jara Beekeeping a National Treasure
05/02/2021
Producing honey in Jara hives has officially been granted Intangible Cultural Heritage status by the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia. The Jara Beekeepers Association (JBA) applied to the Agency back in 2020. Jara is traditional wild beekeeping, a practice which almost died out but which has since 2014 begun a slow revival with the facilitation of the ALCP. The ancient tradition with strong roots in traditional agriculture, culture represents a unique way of life. The status recognizes Jara’s need to be preserved for future generations earning a place amongst other honourable Georgian traditions, including, Qvevri wine-making and Georgian song and dances. This status and will contribute to its further preservation and promotion. It also brings hope and feeling of pride to those beekeepers who are continuing or are now taking Jara beekeeping up. Jara has been on a fascinating journey since 2014. This journey includes The first commercial harvesting, registering the Jara honey mark, being promoted at the international exhibitions, first Bio certification, being taught at the VET college and reaching export markets in the US and Canada. And we can be sure, more things are on their way.  
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