Agriculture is a key economic sector in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. About 40% of the labour force works in this sector, mostly on smallholder farms. Despite its great significance for people in rural areas, most of whom are poor, the agriculture sector accounts for only about 10% of GDP in these three countries. Many farms produce only enough to meet their own needs and have nothing left to sell. The reasons for this include insufficient access to markets, too little investment in production and a high degree of vulnerability to external shocks. Despite these obstacles, there is considerable potential for development, especially in livestock farming, which accounts for about 50% of agricultural production. Opening up regional and cross-border markets offers good opportunities to export honey, meat, cheese, wool and other agricultural products, and therefore to increase local farmers' incomes.
Competitive agricultural products
The aim of the project is to help local farmers in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan to boost their productivity and thus their incomes. The project focuses on all stages of the value chain – from production to sale – and encompasses activities in the meat and dairy sectors as well as honey production and wool processing. Honey production and wool processing have become increasingly important in recent years.
Local honey is best
Locally produced honey was long thought to be inferior. Consumers therefore used to prefer honey imported from abroad. The project promotes the production and marketing of local honey. To this end, the project fosters better cooperation and dialogue between producers and customers. In addition, a honey festival has been launched to promote the sale of regional products.
Wool: turning a waste product into a marketable commodity
Until recently, the main purpose of sheep farming was for meat and cheese production. Wool was only sold locally, in small quantities, and the remains were not further processed. Growing demand for wool for the production of carpets may offer sheep herders an additional sales market for what was until recently a waste product. The project is developing business relationships between wool producers, processing plants, traders and distributors, thereby creating additional sources of income for the local population.
Women's Room: a place to exchange ideas and experiences
Women play a key role in smallholder farms, which tend to be family-run. Therefore, the project includes activities that empower women in the agricultural sector. The Women's Room initiative, which was launched successfully in the recent years, is a place mainly but not exclusively for women, where they can get together in their local community to exchange ideas and experiences and make use of various services. In the Women's Room, everyone has access to the internet and other information, and can seek advice, including career advice, and sign up for continuing education and training (e.g. computer courses). Experience so far has been good and there are plans to extend the initiative to other village communities.
Results and outlook
Since its launch in 2008, the project has proved very successful and is therefore being expanded. These are some of the concrete results of the project:
96,600 livestock producers are deriving a direct benefit and a further 446,000 an indirect benefit from the project.
The project beneficiaries have increased their incomes by 27% since 2008. This is 14% above the national average. The goal is to achieve a 10% increase in income for an additional 10,000 farmers by 2021.
Since 2008, the equivalent of 268 full-time jobs, have been created and another 150 will be created by 2021.
Between 2013 and 2016, 6089 people visited the 'Women's Room', 4186 of whom were women. In 2016 there were 19 such facilities.