The demand for organic food has grown significantly worldwide. This is due to increased awareness about the benefits of organic food on the one hand and to the negative consequences of the use of artificial chemicals on the other hand. For farmers in rural Georgia, where soil conditions and the climate are ideal for hazelnut cultivation, this trend represents both an opportunity and a challenge.
Many hazelnut producers in Georgia lack the flexibility, confidence, and experience to switch to innovative farming practices, since their livelihoods are at stake. They often struggle to meet market needs, both in terms of quality and volume, leaving much of the export potential untapped.
“For Georgian farmers to increase income and productivity, it is essential to make a shift from conventional farming to organic hazelnut cultivation”, says Danielle Meuwly, Regional Director of Cooperation, Swiss Cooperation office for the South Caucasus. “The private sector creates around 90% of all jobs the world over and plays an important role in creating and shaping opportunities that improve the lives of local communities. In recognition of the importance of private-sector engagement, the SDC launched in 2023 a two-year private sector engagement partnership with the Swiss firm Pakka AG,” she added.
The partnership is integrated under the Modernization of Vocational Education and Training (VET) system related to Agriculture in Georgia (VET Phase 3) implemented by the United Nations Development Programme. The project envisages the support 700 farmers (including 230 women) in the western region of Georgia to increase productivity and income from organic hazelnut production and export. It will help bridge the gap between farmers' skills and production standards in organic farming for local producers to access a reliable market and earn a higher income.
“By bringing together local and international experts, we aim to empower Georgian farmers with the knowledge and skills necessary to adopt sustainable and resilient agricultural practices that align with premium markets», says Katharine van der Laan of Pakka AG.
The partnership will enable institutionalization of training services within farmers' cooperatives to impart knowledge and skills on best practices in organic hazelnut cultivation, including pest management, soil and crop nutrition, grafting methods, and other innovative techniques that increase productivity and quality of hazelnuts produced.
“The importance of establishing sustainable and resilient agriculture models cannot be overstated, as farmers face mounting challenges such as escalating costs, shifting weather patterns, and a market that increasingly demands organic products,” says Katharine van der Laan.
Pakka will organize demonstration models to allow farmers to test and visualize the benefits of applying organic practices and popularize results. Furthermore, it will implement evidence-based research to develop solutions to emerging crop protection and soil management challenges.
“This program will provide us with invaluable resources to facilitate further investigation into sustainable regional agricultural models, with a particular focus on organic hazelnuts”, says Katharine van der Laan.
Research efforts will range from basic soil analysis to refine plant nutrition plans, to engaging international researchers on complex pest and disease issues. The evidence generated will serve as a basis to develop guidelines and training curricula for cooperatives, thereby ensuring a continuous feedback loop between the identification of research questions, the generation of evidence, and the improvement of agricultural practices.