Professionals for Georgian agriculture

Professionals for Georgian agriculture

The FINANCIAL -- Recently, the ISET Economist Blog wrote about the cooperative “Shamatia.” Their strawberry seedlings started to fade soon after planting. The cooperative consulted with different experts in the country to find the reason, and the solution for the problem, without success. Only after sending sample seedlings abroad was the cause of the problem revealed. In the meantime, however, the cooperative experienced losses of 15,000 GEL. 

Such cases are not rare in Georgian agriculture. Recent value chain studies conducted by the ISET Policy Institute indicate the lack of professionals in different disciplines of agriculture. For instance, during the interviews for recently conducted tea value chain analysis 1 , tea producers and processors often pointed out the lack of agronomists and technicians with the specific knowledge required for this sector. The results from the trout value chain study 2  were no different; lack of experience and knowledge of disease control and the absence of qualified ichthyo-pathologists were revealed to be important bottlenecks for the development of this sector. Mr. Goderdzi Goderdzishvili – an expert in agriculture from Care international in the Caucasus – has also named the lack of specialists as one of the biggest problem in Georgian agriculture.

Failure on the market of agricultural professionals

It seems that there is a failure in the agriculture specialist market in Georgia. Most Georgian farmers do not know how to take care of their plantations or livestock, not to mention having almost no clue about recent advances in agricultural technology. The demand for different specialists such as veterinarians, agronomists, technicians and technologists is there, but the supply is not sufficient.

This problem is particularly acute for small farmers. While large agricultural producers hire non-local experts (either full-time or on-demand), accessing international experts for consultations is not affordable for most Georgian farmers. As Georgian agriculture is rapidly developing in recent years, experimenting with various forms of institutional innovation (contract farming, cooperatives, etc.), the demand for professionals is expected to further increase in the future. Today, however, neither quantity nor quality of professional knowledge are on the path to satisfy this demand. 

What has been done to address this problem? 

The government, as well as the donor community, acknowledge this problem and are trying to change the situation. In recent years, agriculture-related specializations such as agronomy, veterinary, animal husbandry, food technology, and forestry have been exempt from tuition fees. In addition, the government has created and popularized vocational and educational training (VET) colleges throughout Georgia, where agriculture related modules are well represented. Moreover, the project “Modernization of the Vocational Education and Training System Related to Agriculture in Georgia,” financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), and implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Georgia, is developing dual learning practice in vocational colleges. The idea is to combine theoretical courses at colleges and practical trainings at farms/agribusinesses, with a clear emphasis on the latter. 

Significant effort has been put into creating Regional Information and Consultation Centers (RICCs), which have been established in every municipality in Georgia. These RICCs are under the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), and help in spreading information regarding agriculture programs. They also provide on-demand consultations to all interested farmers. However, recent experience has shown that the specific information and consultations required by farmers could not be provided by the staff of RICCs. A recent investigation 3  by the Association of Young Economists of Georgia pointed out that, whereas farmers are in general satisfied with the effort of RICCs, the capacity (both in terms of quantity and quality of specific agronomic expertize) is far from the desirable level. Mr. Goderdzishvili’s (expert in agriculture from Care international in the Caucasus) view is also in line with the results of the mentioned research: “There are only 4-5 working personnel in each municipality’s RICC, and this is not enough. One or two persons cannot be specialist in all specific fields. There are a lot of new diseases, insects, bugs, etc., and these all need specialists/professionals.” 

Finally, there is a great initiative by the National Parliament Library of Georgia to create a “corner for agriculture” in different libraries in Georgia. This agriculture corner will include not only existing Georgian publications, but also modern agriculture literature translated into Georgian. The first corner has already been opened in the 5th block of National Parliament Library in November 2016.

The way forward

To wrap up, the problem of the lack of agricultural specialists in Georgia is twofold. First, there is the need to generate a hub of experts with different specific knowledge required for agricultural production. Despite several motivating and encouraging attempts, the current situation is still far from being sufficiently addressed. Of course, all the initiatives described above are new, and more time is needed to see the results. However, it is clear that the government and donors should continue with their efforts to address this problem. Georgia, as a small country, does not require a very large number of experts. Also, it might not be necessary for every type of expert to be available in all the regions; setting up a centralized hub of experts might be enough. In different countries, centralized expert hubs often use different technology to serve farmers in remote regions. For example, a farmer may take a picture of a plant disease and send it to the central hub, or, a farmer sends questions and receives answers per SMS. Such practices are cost-efficient and often provide promising results. 

Secondly, the government should think about how to keep these experts working in the country and the sector. After first part of the problem is solved and a hub of experts exist, the government should further promote the development of skills of these experts, and also continue to have a mediator role between farmers and experts. After some time, experts will understand that their expertise is desirable and properly remunerated. At the same time, farmers will know where to search for affordable and good quality experts.

Preparing and further developing experts should happen not only in the colleges and the universities, but in addition, regular trainings should be provided to the current staff of RICCs. Moreover, Agricultural Projects’ Management Agency of MoA should also address this important issue, by providing trainings and consultations to farmers (some of them might soon become extension workers) as part of all their programs.

1. Kochlamazashvili, Irakli, and Nino Kakulia (2015). The Georgian Tea Sector: A Value Chain Study. ISET Policy Institute. Study prepared in the framework of ENPARD project - Cooperation for Rural Prosperity in Georgia.

2. Kochlamazashvili, Irakli, and Nino Kakulia (2016). The Georgian Trout Sector: A Regional Value Chain Study. ISET Policy Institute. Study prepared in the framework of ENPARD project - Cooperation for Rural Prosperity in Georgia.

3. AYEG (2016). Report on the Assessment of Services Provided by the Information and Consultation Service Centers of the Ministry of Agriculture of Georgia. Association of Young Economists of Georgia (AYEG). Study prepared for People in Need (PIN) as part of PIN’s ENPARD activities (in Georgian).