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Farmer Groups: Why We Love Them and When They are Successful

From the ISET Economist news (http://www.iset.ge/news/?p=3311)
By Eric Livny

(Summary of a debate hosted by ISET as part of SDC-supported Inclusive Growth Dialog series.)

There are many reasons to love the concept of farmer cooperation (and cooperation more generally). To begin with, there is a great aesthetic value in seeing people coming together, sharing resources and helping each other. After all, instinctive collectivism was the basic condition of human existence from time immemorial. But, there are also powerful economic reasons for farmer cooperation.

Smallholders are often too small to independently access markets, and can be easily exploited by middlemen and local monopolies. Service cooperatives can increase the bargaining power of smallholders versus banks, service providers, input suppliers, processors and … government. This light form of cooperation is quite effective and relatively easy to manage and sustain, which explains its prevalence in North America and Western Europe.

A more ambitious (and far more demanding) form of cooperation is about pooling fragmented smallholdings into larger farms. Examples of such production cooperatives are the Israeli kibbutz and Soviet collective farms. These are said to benefit from economies of scale in primary agricultural production.

Yet, despite its aesthetic value and compelling economic reasons, farmer cooperation (of both types) has been a spectacular failure in many transition economies, and particularly on the territory of the former USSR, including Georgia. In the words of Tim Stuart, development practitioners in the post-Soviet space are often confronted “with the reality of failed farmer groups that evaporate once the project ends, with unused equipment rusting in the corner of a field, an image, which has become a cliché of dysfunctional development in the popular press. And for many people engaged in development, farmer groups are a byword for failure.”

Of course, failure and success are terms to be defined relative to expected results. For the likes of Juan Echanove, coordinator of EU’s ENPARD program, the journey of a thousand miles in farmer cooperation begins with a single step. His expectation is that the dramatic changes in the legal and financial context for agricultural cooperation in Georgia will encourage the creation of bottom up farmer organizations based on traditional forms of mutual help and resource sharing that have always existed in Georgia. According to Juan, Georgian farmers have been always establishing informal groups and associations, in many cases without any external support and by their own initiative. Such groups often focused on a very narrow but functional scaling up of everyday economic activities including joint arrangements for pasture management and feeding, livestock management, collective work on plowing and harvesting, etc.

WHO IS TO TAKE FARMER COOPERATION TO THE NEXT LEVEL?

While bottom up cooperation may indeed flourish in the new policy context, there is agreement among all analysts that for farmer cooperation to move to the next level – beyond its primitive forms – Georgian villagers have to be provided with the prerequisite skills and resources. A related question, posed by Simon Appleby, an Australian agronomist and agribusiness consultant with many years of experience in South East Asia and Georgia, is “If development agencies are the “wrong” people to be involved in farmer groups and co-ops, who are the “right” players to be involved?” To his mind, “while it may be jarring to the collectivist sensibilities of some, it is worth looking at corporations as enablers and incubators of co-ops.”

Indeed, Juan sees a very wide spectrum of possibilities for private sector involvement, with or without donor assistance. For instance, some farmer groups will emerge to gain access to better and/or cheaper inputs (fertilizers, seeds, fuel) or services (mechanization, vet services, artificial insemination). In these cases the key business partners are not the buyers of the products, but providers of services and inputs. And, importantly, donors – ENPARD, and USAID’s REAP program – will target these businesses rather than farmer groups.

Juan is quick to admit that the issue becomes trickier if the goal is to create farmer groups jointly selling their primary products. Anyhow, even in this case there will be groups such as mandarin or hazelnut co-ops who will face no problem selling their products to a myriad of middlemen, processors and exporters. If these coop do things the right way, argues Juan, they will have more or better quality product to sell. The buyers are already there, and farmer groups won’t need any help in engaging with the private sector.

Finally, there will be co-ops directly placing their products in the local markets, and there is nothing wrong with that, according to Juan. Producing more and/or at a lower cost in the nearby town marketplace would be an easy and realistic improvement. In many parts of Georgia there is simply no alternative, and we don’t always have to be looking for complex solutions.

One problem with Juan’s arguments, however, is that in none of the simple cases private sector actors would have the incentive to provide Georgian villagers with the skills and resources to do things the right way and to manage cooperation. For instance, while input providers would be quite interested in marketing their products (e.g. fertilizer) to individualfarmers, there is no advantage for them in helping organize and train groups of farmers who, once organized, i) would be much tougher to negotiate with and ii) could switch to competing providers. For exactly the same reason, no single buyer of hazelnuts or mandarins would invest time and effort to help organize and train farmer co-ops even though it may be more convenient for him/her to deal with larger and more reliable growers.

Thus, while businesses may be the (only) right players to be involved in enabling and incubating farmer co-ops, special government or donors schemes would have to be developed to incentivize potentially interested corporate actors. While costly, such schemes could be justified if the resulting supply chain relationships have the potential to be sustained without additional subsidies beyond the necessary period of incubation.

As Simon Appleby explains based on his experience in South East Asia, the government could compel large food processors to take on co-ops as supply chain partners. Government (and donors) could also use carrots, such as tax holidays, low interest loans, or grants. That said, there would be no need for the government to play an active role in micromanaging farmer groups. With corporations providing suppliers with a comprehensive support package (finance, inputs, training, and guaranteed forward contracts), co-ops would pop up in response to business opportunities. Given their small size (3-5 families) and blood or friendship bonds on which they are often based, internal management issues of typical co-ops would not be very complicated. According to Simon, over time co-ops could diversify their activities from basic post-harvest treatment, storage, and logistics, to deep processing, foodstuffs trading and financial services, but this process may take many decades. Rushing the process, however, carries huge operational and financial risks.

THE CASE OF TKIS NOBATI

The challenge of incentivizing corporations to integrate smallholder co-ops into their supply chains is not a trivial one. Mind it that corporations – e.g. large processors – have other options. They can choose to go it alone by developing own supply base or contract large farms that don’t need incubation, and can be trusted to deliver on time and in consistent quality.

Yet, as one can also learn from the recent Georgian experience, there would be situations in which businesses have the incentive to engage in nurturing formal or informal farmer groups. While exceptional, these situations provide an excellent sense of the underlying economics.

In 2008, upon graduating from ISET, Gaga Abashidze has taken over a small family business which has been for years buying and processing rose hips gathered by Georgian villagers in the Shida Kartli region. The business model was extremely simple. Villagers harvested and delivered the fruit. Gaga processed and exported rose hip juice to Europe and Japan. Villagers saw no advantage in cooperation, and Gaga saw no need to engage them as a group.

Things changed when Gaga “discovered” the lucrative market of organic rose hip products, which required adopting a more complicated business model. First and foremost, moving to organic production required certifying all stages in the process, from harvesting to post-harvest treatment/storage to processing. Now, as Gaga quickly understood, there was simply no way to certify hundreds of villagers. To acquire international organic certification his supplier had to be a legal entity which could be trained and certified. Of course, once incorporated, his supplier could also come into possession of necessary equipment, contributing to the efficiency of harvesting, post-harvest treatment and storage, reducing processing costs and improving the quality of the final product.

Gaga had two options of re-organizing his supply chain: help create, and work with, a farmer organization, or expand own business. In weighing these two options, Gaga chose the farmer organization/outsourcing alternative for two main reasons.

  1. Many of the startup costs could be shouldered by the village community, including labor and land. While there was little to be saved in labor costs by hiring own workers, the co-op could be eligible for donor assistance to offset capital, training and certification costs.
  2. Gaga knew that the co-op would be a reliable business partner. On the one hand, he had a long history of working with individual members of the group and trusted its leadership. On the other, having access to a lucrative export market he could afford paying a premium for organically certified rose hips, essentially killing any incentives for the group to switch to a different buyer. As much as Gaga needed the group to supply him with a certified product, the group needed him to gain access to the organic export market. Thus, both parties were to be locked into a sustainable win-win relationship.

This particularly account of Tkis Nobati, a small Georgian cooperative in the vicinity of Saguramo is not meant to detract from the role of other players (e.g. the Regional Communities Development Agency, which channeled donor funding, and Elkana, which assisted in the bio-certification process). Rather, the point is to draw attention to the economic rationale for private sector engagement with Georgia’s budding agricultural co-op movement.

The most important insight to be gained from the exceptional story of Gaga Abashidze and Tkis Nobati cooperative is that while the costs of private sector engagement in incubating smallholder “supply” co-ops could be subsidized by donors or governments in the short term, supply linkages thus created are likely to be quite fragile. In the presence of alternative suppliers, co-ops would have to be very well managed to maintain consistent quality and reliability. Otherwise, we may see many more disturbing images of “equipment rusting in the corner of a field”.

To conclude, farmer co-ops can indeed serve many different purposes. Yet, significantproductivity improvements in Georgia’s agricultural sector would only be possible on the basis sustainable supply relationships between farmers and downstream processors and retailers. Only such linkages (embodied in explicit or implicit forward contracts) can provide the basis for new technology adoption and investment.

As Georgia starts exporting to new markets—to Europe under the DCFTA, for example—there will be stronger incentives for smallholder farmers to come together in order improve product quality and achieve market access. Cooperatives and farmer associations may certainly provide the organizational vehicles to take advantage of new export opportunities. Additionally, however, the Georgian parliament and government may want to consider amending the Law on Cooperatives in a manner facilitating corporate involvement in the creation of smallholder co-ops. For example, corporations could be allowed to acquire a stake in co-ops (or “smallholder partnerships”) in return for investment in commonly managed storage or processing facilities.

OTHER NEWS
04/05/2022
Georgian Milk Mark Dairies on Show

The Cheese and Tea Exhibition showcasing Georgian traditional, as well as foreign produce was held at Mtatsminda Park on May 1st, 2022. Ten dairies with the Georgian Milk Mark (GMM) - Milkeni, Tsintskaro +, Meskhuri Gemo, Bebo’s Kveli, Suamta, Leanka, Alpuri Javakheti, Dertseli’s Nobati, Naturaluri Rdzis Gemo, Tsezari presented their products at the event organized by Anna Mikadze-Chikvaidze, the Head of the Cheese Producers Guild. Visitors tasted cheese and got to know about the GMM. Butter with spices, a new product by Milkeni, was their favourite.

‘The GMM contributed a lot to make this event happen. I am thankful to them for giving me an opportunity to discover amazing products, like butter with spices. I am glad that the GMM promotes raw milk production’ - Event founder Anna Mikadze-Chikvaidze praised the development of the GMM in her Facebook posts.

Created in 2019, the GMM has twenty dairies currently using the mark. The GMM products are available in Madagoni, Spar, Tserti, Magniti, Smart, Ori Nabiji, Nikora, Zgapari, Fresco, Carrefour, Goodwill, Daily, Billion and Willmart supermarket chains.

A comprehensive online portal www.georgianmilk.ge provides a profile per enterprise allowing consumers to look up the products they are buying using a unique registration number printed on the label.

        

15/04/2022
Cooperation Solidifies Between Georgian and Armenian Women’s Rooms

For three days from 11-14 April, the Women’s Rooms Union of Georgia NGO hosted an Armenian delegation of the Mayors of Alaverdi, Tumanyan and Tashir municipalities of Armenia, their three Women’s Rooms managers, representatives of Lori Region Governor’s office and the Association of Lawyers Community NGO.  These three municipalities in Armenia have now all instituted Women’s Rooms and were in Georgia to learn more about their operation and potential and to strengthen links in the region.

They met the mayors and deputy mayors of Akhmeta and Telavi municipalities, and a representative of Kakheti Governor’s office and visited the rooms. The Women’s Room managers of both municipalities did presentations on their work.

‘It was a very interesting and useful visit. We have just established the Women’s Room service in our municipality and, as we’ve copied the Georgian model, it was necessary for us to see how this it works here,’ – Suren Tumanyan, the mayor of Tumanyan municipality said.

‘After this visit we clearly see how to use our Women’s Rooms and make sure that our women and girls are involved in local decision making through the Women’s Room as it was done in Georgia,’ – Edgar Arshakyan, the mayor of Tashir municipality said.

One of the main goals of the municipal Women’s Rooms in Georgia is to support women’s entrepreneurship by helping them write business proposals, connect with other women entrepreneurs and access the trainings and information. Participants visited social enterprise Skhivi, where women are making traditional enamel jewelry and accessories, the shop of entrepreneur Tamar Mikeladze, who is making handmade soaps and candles under the brand name Kumpa, and a local female beekeeper.

‘We are impressed with the results of Georgian Women’s Rooms regarding women’s economic empowerment. The managers here had business plan writing and fundraising trainings to help local women to start their own businesses. We are looking forward to doing the same in Armenia,’ – Sasun Khechumyan, the mayor of Alaverdi said.

‘In Lori region there are five municipalities in total, out of which three municipalities have already opened the Women’s Rooms. We are ready to support the opening of this service in the other two municipalities as well,’ – Alik Sahakyan, the representative of Lori Governor’s office said.

This study tour has laid the foundation for future cooperation between Georgian and Armenian municipalities. Alaverdi and Akhmeta municipalities have decided to become twin towns and the Women’s Rooms Union is going to continue cooperation with these Armenia municipalities.

Background information: From 2011 to date the SDC and ADA funded Mercy Corps implemented Alliances Caucasus Programme has been facilitating the establishment and scaling up the municipal Women’s Rooms in Georgia and Armenia. 32 Women’s Rooms in Georgia and three Women’s Rooms in Armenia have been opened so far. The Women’s Rooms are owned by local governments and are used to facilitate access to public decision making, goods and economic opportunities. The Women’s Rooms Union was formed in 2021 to represent the rooms and facilitate their interests.

The information about the visit was posted on a Facebook pages of Telavi and Akhmeta City Halls.

Local TV Tanamgzavri made two news items about the visit. Please, follow the links below:

Meeting at Telavi City Hall  *  Visiting Local Women Entrepreneurs

Follow the link to watch The Women’s Rooms Promo Video

12/04/2022
New Jara Textbook Introduced for VET

Georgian Traditional Beekeeping: Jara Honey Production is a new textbook now available for VET colleges who include a Jara component in their beekeeping courses. It is part of making the Jara beekeeping course material an accredited component in its own right from September this year.

The author Aleko Papava, who is a competent, reliable and respected beekeeper teacher and Head of the Georgian Beekeepers Union, wrote the book together with education specialists on behalf of the Georgian Beekeepers Union and Jara Beekeepers Association.

The Scientific Research Centre of Agriculture of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture reviewed and acknowledged the book positively.  

‘The book is written in a highly professional manner, materials meet the demand of the beekeeping sector in terms of bio honey production and provide comprehensive information about all the topics for studying Jara Honey Production’ – says the Centre in their letter sent to the GBU.

In June 2021, thirteen VET college representatives from seven regions of Georgia attended a Training of Trainers in Jara Honey Production and later received jara equipment. Now eight of them are integrating aspects of Jara beekeeping into different subjects of the beekeeping programmes to 106 students. Five more colleges will start soon. This textbook means that Jara Beekeeping will be taught as a separate accredited component of these courses. The newly established Vocational Skills Agency, National Center for Educational Quality Enhancement and sectoral skills organization Agro Duo are all supporting Jara teaching integration in the VET colleges.

Linked resources: Jara Honey Production Handbook; Bio Certification Guidelines for Beekeepers; www.honeyofgeorgia.com; Discover Georgia: The Land of the Oldest Honey.

03/02/2022
The ‘Secrets’ of Georgian Honey Revealed in the New Article

The Many Secrets of Georgian Honey, an article dedicated to the exceptional Georgian honey making, was published in the online journal Plantings by the World Sensorium Conservancy. The journal covers topics relevant to conservation and the intrinsic values of nature. The article was penned by Braden Bjella, an American culture journalist based in Eastern Europe, who takes readers to Georgian beekeeping journey with the help of the Georgian Beekeepers Union (GBU) and the Jara Beekeepers Association (JBA). As he says, “the question of Georgian honey quality is settled; now, it’s only up to the world to discover it". 

         

20/12/2021
The Georgian Beekeepers Union Celebrates Three Years Anniversary


On December 20th, the Georgian Beekeepers Union (GBU) hosted an event to celebrate its third anniversary inviting key honey sector stakeholders to Hualing Tbilisi Sea Plaza. 


Since 2018, the honey sector has seen huge gains under the auspices of the GBU, which is leading efforts to remove pervasive constraints to growth such as the widespread use of prohibited antibiotics and performing the role of non-governmental national representative of the honey sector. The GBU’s three years of extensive work resulted in increased honey quality, more effective governmental advocacy, better vocational education in beekeeping, including, Jara teaching, available information and trainings for beekeepers, promotion and improved image of Georgian honey at the Apimondia Congress and London Honey Awards, all that paving way for an increase of honey export

 

‘There are some major developments in improving honey testing capacity, increasing awareness of Georgian honey, and opening of new export markets. The comprehensive laboratory analysis, before carried abroad, is now available in Georgia, which resulted in decreasing transaction costs.’ – Giorgi Khanishvili, the First Deputy Minister of the Environmental Protection and Agriculture of Georgia (MEPA). 

 

‘We were able to achieve significant improvements during these three years. We are continuing cooperation with the government and other honey stakeholders to ensure production of safe and quality honey.’ – Aleko Papava, the Executive Director of the GBU. 

Photo source: The MEPA

19/12/2021
Jara Enters the Qatar Market

Nena Jara honey, along with other types of Georgian honey, found its place on the Georgian honey corner opened at the SPAR supermarket branch in Tawar Mall, the largest shopping mall in Doha, Qatar. Georgian honey corner will be opened in every branch of the SPAR chain. The process is backed by the Embassy of Georgia to the State of Qatar. The ALCP facilitated the export of Jara honey.

Local influential media AI Raya dedicated a comprehensive article to Georgian honey with a special highlight on Georgian beekeeping characteristics and traditional Jara.  

The Qatar market seems promising. The Embassy’s previous facilitation for approval of a VET certificate, an essential requirement for honey export, has contributed to a 255% increase of Georgian honey export to Qatar in 2021 compared to 2020. The same figure saw a 350% boost in 2020. 

Photo source: The Embassy of Georgia to the State of Qatar

LATEST NEWS
Georgian Milk Mark Dairies on Show
04/05/2022
The Cheese and Tea Exhibition showcasing Georgian traditional, as well as foreign produce was held at Mtatsminda Park on May 1st, 2022. Ten dairies with the Georgian Milk Mark (GMM) - Milkeni, Tsintskaro +, Meskhuri Gemo, Bebo’s Kveli, Suamta, Leanka, Alpuri Javakheti, Dertseli’s Nobati, Naturaluri Rdzis Gemo, Tsezari presented their products at the event organized by Anna Mikadze-Chikvaidze, the Head of the Cheese Producers Guild. Visitors tasted cheese and got to know about the GMM. Butter with spices, a new product by Milkeni, was their favourite. ‘The GMM contributed a lot to make this event happen. I am thankful to them for giving me an opportunity to discover amazing products, like butter with spices. I am glad that the GMM promotes raw milk production’ - Event founder Anna Mikadze-Chikvaidze praised the development of the GMM in her Facebook posts. Created in 2019, the GMM has twenty dairies currently using the mark. The GMM products are available in Madagoni, Spar, Tserti, Magniti, Smart, Ori Nabiji, Nikora, Zgapari, Fresco, Carrefour, Goodwill, Daily, Billion and Willmart supermarket chains. A comprehensive online portal www.georgianmilk.ge provides a profile per enterprise allowing consumers to look up the products they are buying using a unique registration number printed on the label.         
Cooperation Solidifies Between Georgian and Armenian Women’s Rooms
15/04/2022
For three days from 11-14 April, the Women’s Rooms Union of Georgia NGO hosted an Armenian delegation of the Mayors of Alaverdi, Tumanyan and Tashir municipalities of Armenia, their three Women’s Rooms managers, representatives of Lori Region Governor’s office and the Association of Lawyers Community NGO.  These three municipalities in Armenia have now all instituted Women’s Rooms and were in Georgia to learn more about their operation and potential and to strengthen links in the region. They met the mayors and deputy mayors of Akhmeta and Telavi municipalities, and a representative of Kakheti Governor’s office and visited the rooms. The Women’s Room managers of both municipalities did presentations on their work. ‘It was a very interesting and useful visit. We have just established the Women’s Room service in our municipality and, as we’ve copied the Georgian model, it was necessary for us to see how this it works here,’ – Suren Tumanyan, the mayor of Tumanyan municipality said. ‘After this visit we clearly see how to use our Women’s Rooms and make sure that our women and girls are involved in local decision making through the Women’s Room as it was done in Georgia,’ – Edgar Arshakyan, the mayor of Tashir municipality said. One of the main goals of the municipal Women’s Rooms in Georgia is to support women’s entrepreneurship by helping them write business proposals, connect with other women entrepreneurs and access the trainings and information. Participants visited social enterprise Skhivi, where women are making traditional enamel jewelry and accessories, the shop of entrepreneur Tamar Mikeladze, who is making handmade soaps and candles under the brand name Kumpa, and a local female beekeeper. ‘We are impressed with the results of Georgian Women’s Rooms regarding women’s economic empowerment. The managers here had business plan writing and fundraising trainings to help local women to start their own businesses. We are looking forward to doing the same in Armenia,’ – Sasun Khechumyan, the mayor of Alaverdi said. ‘In Lori region there are five municipalities in total, out of which three municipalities have already opened the Women’s Rooms. We are ready to support the opening of this service in the other two municipalities as well,’ – Alik Sahakyan, the representative of Lori Governor’s office said. This study tour has laid the foundation for future cooperation between Georgian and Armenian municipalities. Alaverdi and Akhmeta municipalities have decided to become twin towns and the Women’s Rooms Union is going to continue cooperation with these Armenia municipalities. Background information: From 2011 to date the SDC and ADA funded Mercy Corps implemented Alliances Caucasus Programme has been facilitating the establishment and scaling up the municipal Women’s Rooms in Georgia and Armenia. 32 Women’s Rooms in Georgia and three Women’s Rooms in Armenia have been opened so far. The Women’s Rooms are owned by local governments and are used to facilitate access to public decision making, goods and economic opportunities. The Women’s Rooms Union was formed in 2021 to represent the rooms and facilitate their interests. The information about the visit was posted on a Facebook pages of Telavi and Akhmeta City Halls. Local TV Tanamgzavri made two news items about the visit. Please, follow the links below: Meeting at Telavi City Hall  *  Visiting Local Women Entrepreneurs Follow the link to watch The Women’s Rooms Promo Video
New Jara Textbook Introduced for VET
12/04/2022
Georgian Traditional Beekeeping: Jara Honey Production is a new textbook now available for VET colleges who include a Jara component in their beekeeping courses. It is part of making the Jara beekeeping course material an accredited component in its own right from September this year. The author Aleko Papava, who is a competent, reliable and respected beekeeper teacher and Head of the Georgian Beekeepers Union, wrote the book together with education specialists on behalf of the Georgian Beekeepers Union and Jara Beekeepers Association. The Scientific Research Centre of Agriculture of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture reviewed and acknowledged the book positively.   ‘The book is written in a highly professional manner, materials meet the demand of the beekeeping sector in terms of bio honey production and provide comprehensive information about all the topics for studying Jara Honey Production’ – says the Centre in their letter sent to the GBU. In June 2021, thirteen VET college representatives from seven regions of Georgia attended a Training of Trainers in Jara Honey Production and later received jara equipment. Now eight of them are integrating aspects of Jara beekeeping into different subjects of the beekeeping programmes to 106 students. Five more colleges will start soon. This textbook means that Jara Beekeeping will be taught as a separate accredited component of these courses. The newly established Vocational Skills Agency, National Center for Educational Quality Enhancement and sectoral skills organization Agro Duo are all supporting Jara teaching integration in the VET colleges. Linked resources: Jara Honey Production Handbook; Bio Certification Guidelines for Beekeepers; www.honeyofgeorgia.com; Discover Georgia: The Land of the Oldest Honey.
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Georgian Traditional Beekeeping: Jara Honey Production GEO
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