How Switzerland helps Georgian farmers increase exports of organic hazelnuts
From fish to meat and vegetable dishes, to bakery and confectioneary, hazelnuts are a staple ingredient in Georgian cuisine. Moreover, hazelnuts are one of the country’s most important agricultural products. With a steady demand for organic food, the industry has a potential for growth. The SDC has launched a private sector engagement partnership to enable Georgian farmers to increase productivity and income from organic hazelnut production.
Hazelnuts are a staple ingredient in Georgian cuisine. © PAKKA Georgia LLC
The demand for organic food has grown significantly worldwide. This is due to increased awareness of the benefits of organic food on the one hand, and the negative consequences of the use of artificial chemicals on the other. 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, the regional director of cooperation at the 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, in 2023 the SDC launched a two-year private sector engagement partnership with the Swiss firm Pakka AG.”
The partnership is integrated under the Modernisation 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 support for 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, so that local producers can access a reliable market and earn a higher income.
Swiss Cooperation Programme 2022–25 for the South Caucasus
To foster economic recovery, resilience and reform, the Swiss cooperation programme will stimulate the creation of climate-resilient income and employment opportunities specifically in rural areas, notably in tourism and new agricultural value chains. The programme will also aim to create sound macroeconomic conditions, an environment conducive to business and improved access to resources, markets and a skilled workforce.
Read more about the Swiss Cooperation Programme 2022–25 for the South Caucasus.
Switzerland supports rural communities in Georgia. © UNDP
“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 the institutionalisation 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 the 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 van der Laan.
Pakka will organise demonstration models to allow farmers to test and visualise the benefits of applying organic practices and popularise results. Furthermore, it will implement evidence-based research to develop solutions to emerging challenges in crop protection and soil management.
“This programme will provide us with invaluable resources to facilitate further research into sustainable regional agricultural models, with a particular focus on organic hazelnuts”, says 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.
PAKKA Georgia LLC in brief
Pakka promotes and develops nut value chains worldwide, working with smallholder farmer cooperatives to maximise sustainability and social impact. Since 2011, Pakka’s subsidiary firm in Georgia (Pakka Georgia LLC) has focused on processing and exporting hazelnuts to Switzerland and other parts of Europe, intending to become a leading exporter of Georgian organic hazelnuts. Building on a long tradition of small-scale hazelnut farming in Georgia, Pakka supported nine cooperatives to come together under the Caucasnut Association to facilitate their farmers' transition to organic certification for export. Thanks to Pakka, farmers have begun exporting their first certified organic hazelnuts to Switzerland and other European countries – a promising market with significant growth potential, which can translate into improved income for farmers, thanks to the premium paid on organic products.