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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
17/06/2020
ILO ALCP Dairy Study Now Out

The International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Better Cheese, better work: The Alliances Caucasus Programme’s Impact on Informality and Working Conditions in Georgia’s Dairy Sector which explores formalization within  the dairy value chain in Georgia stemming from ALCP market systems interventions, is now available on the ALCP website.

The ILO and ALCP worked together from summer 2019 to bring this research to completion. There are several reasons for the timeliness and importance of this report; chief amongst them is the ever present need for lessons learnt from MSD programmes, which can be applied in others, secondly the need to demonstrate the efficacy of the approach with a detailed account of systemic change and thirdly the growing importance in development programming of evaluating the efficacy of the MSD approach to develop quality employment at scale. 

10/06/2020
Georgian Milk Mark on National TV

From the beginning of June, the two most popular national TV stations Imedi TV and TV Pirveli have been broadcasting the Georgian Milk Mark (GMM) animation video five times a day during prime time for free as a part of social advertising. Those televisions have national coverage reaching a high number of consumers.

There are now ten GMM dairy enterprises’ products available in fifteen supermarket chains across Georgia. Detailed information to be found on www.georgianmilk.ge.

22/05/2020
New Beekeeper Info Links Launched

On the May 20th, 4,400 beekeepers registered in the new GBU database received an SMS notification from the Georgian Beekeepers Union (GBU) on how to treat Varroa, the most common bee disease in Georgia.

The GBU will continue informing its members through phone Facebook. And their new official webpage is now online: www.geobeekeepers.ge.

Created in 2018, the GBU is an umbrella association uniting ten beekeeping associations and three commercial beekeeping companies.

 

21/05/2020
Beekeepers Union Keeps Bees Moving

The Georgian Beekeepers Union (GBU) successfully advocated for permits to be issued for beekeepers allowing them to continue work during the curfew.

The Government of Georgia declared the nationwide curfew on March 30th, 2020 to restrict the spread of the COVID-19 virus, prohibiting any movement from 9:00 PM to 06:00 AM. This posed a serious problem for beekeepers who rely on transhumance predominantly at night.

In Georgia, bee transhumance allows for beekeepers to place hives at different altitudes to capture the flowering of different plants. Starting from late Spring, Georgian beekeepers start to move apiaries to get different types of honey including Acacia,Chestnut, Alpine, Linden. The transhumance of bees significantly increases their honey productivity.

On April 4th, the GBU sent an official letter to the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture of Georgia (MEPA) asking for the issuing of permission/passes for beekeepers including the guidance it developed for beekeepers during the Covid-19 outbreak.

We asked the Minister to mediate with the appropriate agencies to issue special permits, so that beekeepers may access their apiaries and work there, transport beekeeping apiaries for transhumance on pre-determined routes within the curfew conditions.’ – Avksenti Papava, the Director of the GBU.

Up to eight hundred beekeepers have already used permits, who are now able to visit apiaries and carry out vital seasonal treatment and maintenance.  Bees are transported at night where possible, because they do not leave a hive during night, which the permit makes possible.

‘I have my apiaries located in the different regions for getting various types of honey. I was very happy to hear about special permit for beekeepers, as it is very active season in beekeeping. I am able to freely move to the locations and do not worry about time limitations’ – Kakhaber Zirakasvili, a beekeeper.

Guidance and contact information on getting permits and the Covid-19 recommendations have been shared by the GBU on its facebook page.

The Georgian Beekeepers Union (www.geobeekeepers.ge) is an umbrella association uniting ten beekeeping associations and three commercial beekeeping companies with more than four thousand Georgian beekeepers. It was established to represent their interests and to promote the health and development of the honey sector in Georgia with the facilitation of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) project the Mercy Corps Georgia implemented Alliances Caucasus Programme (ALCP).


19/05/2020
Kindness is Contagious

In the midst of anxiety under the COVID-19, some people rise to the occasion when faced with adversity and it is uplifting to hear stories about them. As for many others it has been difficult times for the client businesses of the programme, but they have continued to help people most affected by the current crisis over the past two weeks.  

Ten dairy enterprises with the Georgian Milk Mark www.georgianmilk.ge provided cheese for the medical staff of hospitals in the frontline of battling the virus as well as people under quarantine and locals in the lockdown areas in the different regions of Georgia, who have limited access to the markets.

‘It is now important to show support to each other. I was very happy to see reactions from people, who were very surprised and thankful. I think those GMM enterprises set very good example for others.’ – A GMM cheese distributor.  

The Georgian Beekeepers Union (www.geobeekeepers.ge), uniting ten beekeeping associations and three commercial beekeeping companies supplied 1.2 tonnes of honey for further distribution among medical staff and vulnerable groups.

The Kakhetian Traditional Winemaking group’s (programme facilitated honey aggregator and exporter company) forty-one rooms hotel-complex is being used as a quarantine zone, the company also supplied food to locals over seventy in two regions of Georgia within a social project ‘Care for Each Other’ initiated after the virus outbreak and is now offering online sales and a free home delivery of its products (wine, compotes, jams, including, honey); the company’s webpage Old Kakheti went online to improve online sales.

These are a few examples and continuation of the kindness acts that started a month ago.

07/05/2020
Liquid Gold Reaches the Market

Referred to as Liquid Gold, for its color and perceived health benefits, Erbo the Georgian word for melted butter is a well-kept secret in Georgia. Traditionally made at home Erbo is much used in local traditional cuisines.  Butter is an important fat in Georgia, very common in Azeri cuisine and in mountainous regions where both the harsh winter climates and distance from markets increased the importance of butter which can be stored, in communities dependent on dairy farming.

Now thanks to Milkeni Ltd who have started to produce and sell Erbo as part of their products made under the Georgian Milk Mark, quality assured Erbo is now available commercially for the first time in Georgia in Madagoni and Libre supermarkets chains. Interest and demand is growing rapidly.

Of all regions, perhaps Ajara is most famous for its use of Erbo. Most traditional Ajarian dishes contain Erbo.  Borano is a dish of melted butter containing traditional Chechili cheese, a dish which been awarded the status of Intangible Cultural Heritage and Khavitsi a sauce made with flour and Erbo.

So what is special about Erbo?  People believe that it is a healthy fat, processed differently and beneficially in the body and is well absorbed in the human body; it does not contain lactose and casein, so it is recommended for those with lactose intolerance. Mountain people believe Erbo boosts metabolism and energy, improving brain function, memory and their immune system.

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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