“It’s never too late to learn how to grow crops better,’’ Irina Vasilyeva, a farmer from Bagdati municipality of Georgia says.
Irina lives in the ancient village of Vartsikhe, with the population of just over 1500 people. For centuries, local inhabitants were involved in farming and trade, with all the members of the families working the fields. Irina’s family follows the same lead, every member of her family, husband and two children are involved in agriculture. However, the old ways of farming made place for innovation, with the support from FAO and the EU.
“I’ve heard that FAO agronomists were visiting a seedling production facility nearby, so I attended the meeting and showed them my records – I always record what I do on my farm and said that I wanted to learn more to improve the quality of my crops,” Irina said, describing how her involvement with FAO began.
Owning three greenhouses, 500 sq. m. each, Irina Vasilyeva and her family grew vegetables and found that modern agriculture had a lot to offer for successful production of cucumbers, tomatoes, salad herbs and other plants that she was producing.
“I had known some of the methods the agronomists talked about, but some were totally new for me. FAO agronomists helped to install drip irrigation in my greenhouses, showed how to properly raise beds and do mulching, the plants look so much better now, and the final product tastes better too” the farmer states.
According to Irina, FAO support not only helped her to achieve better crops, but also helped to use her resources more rationally. “I didn’t know my plants didn’t need so much fertilizer, with drip irrigation and better calculation I use less now, it’s a serious cost saving measure,” she said.
And the costs are very important for farmers in Georgia. This is particularly important for female farmers, who just like Irina start their own production to gain the income, independent from male members of the family, to contribute to the family budget.
Just like many other producers, Irina sells her products on an agricultural market in Kutaisi, but recently she can’t get the profit she hoped for. It’s getting harder to sell the product in the times of COVID-19 pandemic, she says. As the restrictions on tourism and restaurant business were introduced, Irina spent days on the market without being able to sell her goods.
In times like this, the support from EU and FAO is especially important, she states. With the support from FAO expert agronomists, the farmer was able to produce lettuce in winter, without the use of heating in her greenhouses. Growing crops during the off-season, allowed her to sell the produce very easily and without much competition from the local producers on the market. With the higher quality of her product and cost-reducing methods Irina and her farm managed to survive the hardest times of the pandemic and look optimistically into the future.
“We can see now, that step by step, the country is getting back to normal, restaurants and hotels are opening up, people will always need to eat and now I know how to grow more and better,” the farmer stated.
“We are trying to teach more and more Georgian farmers to produce also in off-season when prices are higher and there is a lack of local production. The farmers learn new techniques to adapt to these conditions, and FAO can provide that. Georgian farmers should not only produce agricultural goods during the high season, but also when prices are high, in colder months. In locations, like Vartsikhe and many others, off-season vegetable production can be very profitable and might reduce Georgia’s dependency on import,” Allan Pineda, FAO International Senior Agronomist stated.
Sharing the experience and spreading information on the best agricultural practices is one of the most important goals of FAO activities in Georgia. That’s why the organization chose Irina’s plot as a great point of reference for agricultural trainings conducted in the region. Farmer Field School meetings, organized by FAO with the EU support regularly take place in Irina’s greenhouses, as the farmer is always more than happy to share her knowledge and experience. She notes that more and more women are interested in starting their own agricultural production in order to supplement to the family income.
“There is nothing in agriculture, that a man can do, and a woman can’t. Yes, it is a hard labour, but it is interesting and rewarding. I do what I can to share what I learned with the women from my village,” she said.
So far, FAO has established more than 80 demonstration plots and 10 Farmer Field Schools, active in vegetable, dairy and honey production, in various regions of Georgia. More than 1 200 Georgian farmers, 25 percent of whom were female, have received so far hands-on field trainings from FAO agronomists.
The EU is supporting agriculture and rural development in Georgia through its ENPARD programme. Implemented since 2013 with a total budget of EUR 234.5 million, the main goal of ENPARD is to provide economic opportunities in rural areas and reduce poverty in Georgia. More information on ENPARD is available at: www.enpard.ge.