The FINANCIAL -- As the election day of October 8th approaches, we hear more and more about the platforms of Georgian political parties. Given that political competition is very fierce, one naturally expects to hear some blatantly populistic statements – the kind of political promises (known to humanity from the times of Aristophanes) which are very popular among the voters, but are hard or impossible to implement in practice.
Thus, for example, the reform of the tax system is among the hottest topics in this election season, and almost all economic platforms start with promises related to the reduction and/or complete elimination of various taxes. In the same time, there is little explanation on how the country’s budget could support these promises.
Just how populistic are political platforms of various parties in Georgia? In this blog we explorethe platforms relating in particular to the agricultural sector.
A CINDERELLA OF POLITICS
If there were a beauty contest amongst the topics on political agenda, agricultural development would surely get one of the last places in Georgia. This is quite strange, given that agriculture employs more than 50% ofthe labor force, while being one of the most technologically backward sectors. Discussions on how to industrialize agriculturewithout jeopardizing the livelihoods of people currently working in rural areas, are very important in international and national policy circles. So why is agriculture not a sexy topic for politicians? A brief look at a few party programs gives us an idea.
Firstly, it seems that development gaps in the agricultural sector are far too obvious to be the subject of a hot debate. The politicians could hardly disagree on the need to promote infrastructure and labor productivity in rural areas. And without a disagreement, there is almost no point in raising an issue – at least not during the election season. Secondly, it seems that thesolutions to agricultural sector problems are a bit too complex to be easily digestible. In practical terms, any issue that cannot be explained in one minute or less, is not great for TV.
To be fair, most political parties do mention agriculture in one way or another. But what do they have to say? Here’s our “popular guide” to political platforms on this topic:
In a contest for the least populistic platform on agriculture the winner is….
the program of the United National Movement (UNM).This programmentions agricultural issues only very briefly (although the need for infrastructural projects including rehabilitation of irrigation systems does feature in the party’s platform). What is more interesting is that the party promises to abolish all entry barriers on Georgian food market for high quality, certified food products. Given that farmers usually lobby for protection policies (read more about this in our blog article “Should Georgia Restrict Its Agricultural Imports”) this promise (which economically makes a lot of sense) will not go well with the Georgian farmers.
The agricultural platform with the most populistic appeal belongs to….
the New Political Center Girchi. Their program focuses on land registration issues, and is opposing current government’s land registration reform. This party suggests to employ an Anglo-Saxon model of land privatization according to which all fossils and minerals identified at the land plot are owned by the land owner (currently that is not the case). Since land registration is one of the most debatable and problematic topics in Georgian agriculture, the party definitely resonates with the interests of many Georgian farmers. Although the issue of owning minerals is currently not that important, it makes the voters feel good (who knows, they might find commercial oil fields in Kakheti one day!).
The most boring (and the most comprehensive) program belongs to……
not surprisingly, the incumbent Georgian Dream Coalition (GDC). The agricultural section of the program is highly comprehensive, and touches upon almost all the aspects of Georgian agriculture. Basically the government plans to continue the strategy it had before and pay quite a lot of attention to agriculture.
The Georgian Dream platform, in particular, reviews the already implemented initiatives such as creation of Agricultural Projects Management Agency (APMA), Agricultural Cooperatives Development Agency (ACDA), Agricultural Scientific Research Center and emphasizes the importance of such projects as agricultural insurance, loans etc.
In the future, supporting cooperatives is considered to be one of the major targets along with the land reform aimed at the reduction of land fragmentation. Among other issues is improved farmers’ access to storage facilities, packaging and processing equipment as well as supporting development of distribution networks. These measures could ultimately help farmers create higher value added, become vertically integrated and eventually more competitive.
In addition to the actions mentioned above they plan to continue to work on agricultural insurance project and farmers’ access to finance, machinery and knowledge. Similarly to the UNM, the Georgian Dream plans to increase the meliorated and irrigated areas and support the application of modern irrigation techniques. The last part of the program focuses on the issues of approximation of Georgian food safety regulations with the DCFTA requirements, potential of bio production, geographical location, application of smart agriculture technics and improvements in agricultural data collection system.
Despite the comprehensive detail, the plans of the GDC are not very specific on how the various government programs will be supported by the budget (lacking the analysis of fiscal burden of such programs). Secondly, the documentlack some specific targets and gives little idea on how programs will be prioritized (promising a lot of changes and interventions at once makes the program less credible).
The prize for the most original idea goes to….
PaataBurchuladze – State for the People. The party’s program has common elements with other programs although it provides a couple of numerical targets (budget spending structure). The last element of the program is quite interesting and is related to the promotion of Georgian brands both at local and domestic markets. Most of the programs focus on the promotion of Georgian brands at foreign markets, but none of them discusses the importance of marketing Georgian brands at local market.
The party also plans to reduce budget spending on subsidies, increase education and infrastructure related costs. The party aims to establish professional colleges and demonstration plots, apply VAT exemption for agriculture related imported technologies and develop laboratories. Similarly to other parties it is planning to conduct land registration reform, foster state land privatization procedure and promote Georgian brands at local and foreign markets.
The prize for the least original idea belongs to….
the Republican Party, which focuses on the increasing of Georgian production and exports. In order to achieve this goal it aims at creation of a special program “Supporting Exports” for provision of information-consultation services to relatively small potential exporters. Regional information-consultation centers are supposed to play major role in this process. Apart from them it is expected to involve Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well economic departments of various councils. The initiative itself is quite interesting but not very original given the existence of many donor funded projects with similar goals as well as already existing information-consultation centers which already consult farmers quite actively.
And finally, the Free Democrats discuss agriculture even less than representatives of UNM and just emphasize the importance of supporting export oriented production which will definitely benefit Georgian producers majority of whom are small scale family farms.
Agriculture might not be the major focus in the current political debate (for the reasons we mentioned above), but it is not altogether neglected, and many planned interventions are either directly or indirectly related to agriculture.
Programs’ most common elements include land reform, export promotion and investments in infrastructure. All of them are vital undertakings. Let us just hope that the winning party will make sure that these promises do not just stay on paper.