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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
20/12/2019
The Georgian Milk Mark Cheese at the Georgian Cheese and Wine Evening

On 16th of December 2019, the Georgian Milk mark organized a Georgian Cheese and Wine evening at 8000 Vintages to introduce cheese with Georgian Milk mark (GMM) to the supermarkets and encouraged them to pass information on the advantages of GMM cheese to consumers. Cheese with Georgian Milk mark does not contain milk powder or any vegetable oils, it has laboratory analysis and is produced in the enterprises which are HACCP certified.

The Guests had the opportunity to taste different types of cheese made from natural raw milk produced by thirteen enterprises: Milken Ltd, Tsintskaro + Ltd, I.E Hakob Hambaryan, I.E Karen Simonyan, I.E Tsolak Grigoryan, Tsifora –Smatskhe Ltd, Tsalka +Ltd, Dairy Products Company Tsezari Ltd, Gocha Gagashvili – brand name Tsivis Kveli, Levan Bejanishvili-brand name Shuamta, Badri Gogoladze – brand name Cheese Hut, Coop. Tanadgoma, Coop. Disvelli. The Information per enterprise is available on www.georgianmilk.ge. The website allows consumers to look up the products they are buying using a unique register number printed on a label.

The evening of Georgian Cheese and Wine was attended by Mr. Levan Davitashvili, the Minister of Environment Protection and Agriculture of Georgia, by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation Project Alliances Caucasus Program (ALCP) implemented by Mercy Corps, Georgian Milk Mark Project Administrator - Business Institute of Georgia and Marketing Company GMA Representative, the supermarkets and the dairies using the Georgian Milk mark.

The evening was headed by Zaza Grigalashvili, an '8000 Vintages' Sommelier, who spoke about Georgian cheese and wine pairing.

Helen Bradbury, ALCP Team Leader: ‘We have private sector cheese enterprises in the room from different regions, these are a real dairy businesses operating for years and years. It is very important that this is Georgian Milk from Georgian cows who eat Georgian grass. Consumers want to eat natural, healthy, good country food which comes from this beautiful land, from this beautiful clean water, from happy cows and are made in communities living in countryside.  Today we are at 8000 Vintages and we all know the history of wine. If you want ‘Qvevri’ wine or European style wine we know from where it comes from its name and the consumer can choose according wine value and its good for the producer, they can add more value and then this value goes back to the jobs, factories in the communities. So in the dairy sector it is going to be the same: as cheese will have the name, taste, value, style and its started to develop, the money supporting these factories goes back to women who are supplying milk, their families, they are putting money to their children education and investing in their life'. 

Levan Davitashvili, The Minister of MEPA: ‘I think the most difficult sector in Georgia is adairy sector and we have a lot to do together. A good presentation of a final product the market and how we bring cheese to the consumer is very important. We can say that competition between the enterprises is unfair, but we work on this via new the regulations to change the situation in the sector, we also empower our laboratories to have better quality and safe products. Today we have Georgian Milk mark presentation which is a very good idea for providing information to the consumers about dairy products, which also gives advantages to producer'.

The Products with the mark are available in Madagoni, Spar, Ori Nabiji, Nikora, Zgapari, Fresco, Carrefour, and Goodwill supermarket chains.

11/11/2019
The Georgian Milk Mark dairies at the Cheese and Hot Drinks Festival

Tsintskaro + and Tsipora-Samtskhe dairy products with the Georgian Milk Mark were introduced at the Cheese and Hot Drinks Festival organized by Anna Mikadze – Chikvaidze, the Head of Cheese Producers Guild and held at the Mtatsminda Park on 10th of November, 2019. The visitors tasted cheese and received information about the Georgian Milk mark.  

‘What makes this festival important is to introduce cheese with the Georgian Milk mark, which says to consumers that cheese is made from natural raw milk’ -  stated Anna Mikadze - Chikvaidze.

Currently seven dairy enterprises are using the Georgian Milk mark: Milkeni; Tsintskaro +; Tsipora –Samtskhe; Cheese Hut; Tsezari; Tsivis Kveli; Shuamta.

Products with the mark are available in Madagoni, Spar, Ori Nabiji, Nikora, Zgapari, Fresco, Carrefour, and Goodwill supermarket chains.

Information per enterprise is uploaded on www.georgianmilk.ge. This allows consumers to look up the products they are buying using a unique register number printed on the label.

07/11/2019
Unofficial AMR route in Shiraki Pastures Officially Registered

A 22 km  route in Shiraki pastures, Dedoplistskaro municipality has received the status of becoming part of the official Animal Movement Route (AMR) last week. The unofficial route, which had been used for livestock seasonal migration for decades, had not been officially registered as the AMR before. As a result of a joint effort between the  ALCP  the Shepherds Association, The Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture (MEPA), the National Agency of State Property and the Ministry of Economy & Sustainable Development, the route  and297 ha land, is now officially registered as the AMR by National Agency of Public Registry of Georgia.

The section of the route is now protected from saleas according current regulations, AMR land  is not allowed to be sold or rented. A water point located in this area will be restored soon as well, within the planned Water Point’s project of the ALCP and MEPA.


29/10/2019
Swiss Delegation Visit to the ALCP

On October 29th, theSwiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) project the Mercy Corps Georgia implemented Alliances Caucasus Programme (ALCP) hosted the President of the Swiss National Council Marina Carobbio Guscetti, First Vice President of the National Council Isabelle Moret, Second Vice President of the National Council Heinz Brand, Secretary General of the Federal Assembly at Swiss Parliament Philippe Schwab, Ambassador of Switzerland to Georgia Patric Franzen, Deputy Head of Embassy of Switzerland in Georgia Alvaro Borghi, and the Regional Director of the Swiss Cooperation Office in Georgia, Danielle Mewly Monteleone.  The Mayor of Marneuli, MP’s of Marneuli and Rustavi and the Deputy Governor of Kvemo Kartli region were also present.  The visit was  part of an official visit of Swiss officials to Georgia, to open the new Swiss Embassy in Tbilisi, celebrate sixty years of UNICEF Switzerland, highlight the importance of the Swiss role in mediation and representation between Georgia and Russia and visit some of the outcomes of the significant investment through SDC in economic development in Georgia.

The delegation was introduced to the ALCP’s work in Georgia and the programme’s regional outreach in Armenia and Azerbaijan, emphasizing equitable impact  and women’s economic empowerment in the dairy and honey sector’s and the regional programme of vocational agri-journalism trainings in fourteen universities in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The delegation visited the Women’s Room in Marneuli municipality highlighting gender sensitive budgeting training delivered through UN Women and the projects for and started by women through funding facilitated by the Women's Room.  They then visited Milkeni Cheese Factory in Rustavi where the importance of sustainable community based enterprises supplied by local farmers was emphasized, as was the growing influence of the new dairy quality assurance mark, the Georgian Milk Mark www.Georgianmilk.ge/Milkeni.

To date, the ALCP has facilitated thirty-two cheese factories, creating a regular market for 23,000 farmers, seventy percent of whom are women; the Women’s Room Municipal Service is now operating in twenty-eight municipalities of Georgia with more than 17,000 regular rural women users, facilitating to date $2.4 million USD in government, civil and private funding for women’s initiatives and projects.

11/10/2019
Honey Testing as a Constraint for the Georgian Honey Export

Honey testing requirements for export and laboratory testing capability and reality in Georgia were the main topics of the ALCP Second Honey Sector Advisory Committee meeting on 9th of October, 2019. The meeting gathered up to forty key stakeholders of the sector, including the Georgian Beekeepers Union (GBU), the Minister and Deputy Minister of Environment Protection and Agriculture of Georgia, Head of the National Food Agency, the Laboratory of Ministry of Agriculture (LMA), private laboratories, a honey exporter company Kakhetian Traditional Winemaking KTW.

A laboratory service subsidy scheme was presented at the meeting, that serves for supporting honey export development through creating accessible and affordable laboratory  testing services for the Georgian beekeepers and honey exporters, which still remains as one of the key constrains for exporting Georgian honey abroad.

“For me, the honey sector is one of the most complex sectors in agriculture and I think the format of this meeting helps us with finding the best solutions to keep the sector going. I am pleased that today’s topic concerns honey laboratory testing, as we are determined to make honey as an export product. We have already made some important steps, like, participation in Apimondia 2019 and other important events for honey promotion. I think we can elaborate and agree on a future working model” – Levan Davitashvili, the Minister of Environment Protection and Agriculture of Georgia.

“Access to affordable laboratory services will not only decrease prime cost of honey, but will ensure quality honey to be sold at local and international markets” – stated Mikheil Tetruashvili, the GBU board member.

The Minster of Environment Protection and Agriculture of Georgia appointed a focal point in the Ministry to improve communication with beekeepers. The meeting participants agreed to continue work on the topic together with the MEPA and NFA.

The meeting was facilitated by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) project the Mercy Corps Georgia implemented the Alliances Caucasus Programme (ALCP). 

Photo Source: The Ministry of Environment Protection and Agriculture of Georgia

12/09/2019
Georgian Honey on the World Stage

The 46thApimondia Congress 2019, the most significant event in beekeeping worldwide, took place from 9th of September to 12th of September, in Montreal, Canada. For the second time in Apimondia’s hundred years of history, Georgia was at this world forum, represented by the Ministry of Environment Protection and Agriculture (MEPA)the Georgian Beekeepers’ Union (GBU) and Kakhetian Traditional Winemaking company, exhibiting the different types of honey of its members and promoting Georgian honey and beekeeping.

Apimondia promotes scientific, ecological, social and economic apicultural development in all countries and the cooperation of beekeepers' associations, scientific bodies and individuals involved in apiculture all over the world. This event is a unique opportunity for Georgia to promote itself as a honey producer and claim a place next to world leading honey producers. The recent placing of Georgia on the list of third countries for honey only further cements the credibility of Georgia as a viable producer country.

Georgia has been extensively promoted internationally as the birthplace of winemaking. Apimondia provides the  opportunity to put energy into a new promotion of Georgia as the homeland of the oldest honey ever discovered, preserver of ancient beekeeping traditions as shown in the Jara movie and producer of a wide variety of artisanal natural honey and bee products fueled by the un-paralleled flora of Georgia’s uniquely bio diverse and unspoiled landscape.

The Georgian Beekeepers Union (2018) as an umbrella association for advocating and representing beekeepers’ interests developed Honey promotion video, websites/catalogues of Jara Honey and Georgian Honey for further promotion of Georgian honey.

The first participation at the congress was facilitated by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) project the Mercy Corps Georgia implemented Alliances Caucasus Programme (ALCP) in cooperation with the Ajarian Beekeeping Business Association (ABBA) operating under the Ajara Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) in Istanbul, Turkey in 2017.

Follow the links on the Apimondia Congress 2019: Interpressnews, Palitranews.ge

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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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