The Covid-19 pandemic challenged the world, forcing people to change their daily routines and adapt to the new reality. In many countries, the crisis also undermined food security. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), nearly 690 million people did not have access to adequate food in 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic started. According to FAO’s latest analysis, the pandemic will add another 132 million people to the global average. In addition, more than 4.5 billion people worldwide are directly dependent on agricultural production to feed their families. These data remind us once again, how important it is to strengthen and promote the agricultural sector, especially during a pandemic.
In the backdrop of the Covid-19 crisis, the European Union (EU), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture of Georgia (MEPA) have teamed up to develop a funding mechanism to support Georgian farmers against the pandemic. Between March and December 2020, the program awarded 132 matching grants with a total amount of up to 8.5 million GEL to Georgian farmers, entrepreneurs and small and medium businesses in rural areas. In 22 municipalities of Georgia, farmers received drip irrigation kits, agricultural equipment and machinery. These grants are part of the EU’s broader initiative supporting Georgian farmers under the European Neighbourhood Programme for Agricultural and Rural Development (ENPARD), since 2019.
“FAO and EU stay fully committed to help Georgian farmers and producers. During the pandemic we never stopped and even more actively processed grant requests and delivered capital agricultural investments to the beneficiaries. We know that our support is very significant in terms of helping farmers to produce enough food and subsequently, prevent food insecurity in the country, which is a real threat amid Covid-19 pandemic”, said Javier Sanz Alvarez, FAO-EU Project Coordinator in Georgia.
Below are stories of people who shared on how their business developed after they applied for the grants and how important the support has been to them, especially during the pandemic.
Nikoloz Meskhi, a farmer from Lagodekhi
Nikoloz Meskhi owns land plots of a total of 15 ha in the Kakheti region. He grows corn on 8 hectares and cultivates the rest of the land to grow wheat. During the pandemic, he received EU-FAO co-funding grant and bought an agricultural drone that has a 10-liter tank and can spray insecticides, liquid fertilizers, etc. Drones have been used in agriculture for years, to apply chemicals, but the high-resolution cameras and sensors can also help to monitor pests and diseases. This technique is quite new in Georgia, but it could have a significant potential for the future.
“When we use a traditional approach, such as tractors or hand spraying, the crops may be damaged; but drones don’t damage the crops. In addition, drones can be much faster for some treatments or field works.,” says Nika.
The problem of pesticide application and land cultivation also arose during the pandemic, when the restrictions impeded many daily workers were restricted to be present in the farms. In situations like this, drones could also be helpful.
During this season, Nika mastered the drone handling techniques and could monitor his neighbours’ lands. He plans to start using the drone to provide services to farmers, such as pest monitoring or pesticide spraying in the next season.
“I believe that drones technology is very efficient, less costly and requires significantly less pesticides than the traditional approach. I expect that in the new season, along with all other benefits, there will be more people using this agricultural service,” says Nika.
Meri Beruashvili, a farmer from Gurjaani
Meri lives in Gurjaani with her husband and three children. The family has a one-hectare vineyard of Rkatsiteli, and the yields are lower than elsewhere due to the droughts typical for the area. Meri needed a solution, so in spring she had a well drilled and got water for irrigation. The next lucky step was to apply for a grant, and Meri received a 75% co-funding for a drip irrigation system.
“I paid a lot of money for drilling the well. I knew for sure I would not be able to build the irrigation system with my own resources. During the pandemic, the grant competition was announced, and I decided to try my luck. I could not believe it when I got the funding. That was the most important help, because I could not increase the yields due to the lack of water. Because of the drought, we sometimes did not have water for 6 months, and then the crops and our efforts were all wasted,” says Meri.
Now that the irrigation system has been built, Meri expects an increase in the yields. During the construction of the system, the family also received a 10t-capacity tank to store water and use it whenever needed.
“look forward to the next season and believe we would get a larger and a higher quality harvest. It is very important for us, because the pandemic has thrown everyone back. We have been very happy to receive the support. In future, when grant competitions are announced, I will try my luck again. I believe that a big goal can be achieved in small steps,” says Meri.
Lyudmila Manuilova, a farmer from Lagodekhi
Lyudmila and her partner Mukhran Metreveli from Lagodekhi municipality started producing silage last year. In the first stage, they purchased a silage harvester, but the work was delayed because they did not have a packaging machine. They strained every effort to find a solution and rented a small packing machine, and finally packed the silage. They wanted to facilitate the harvesting process, so when they heard about the EU grant program, they applied to procure a packing machine for silage, and they got co-funding for GEL 400 000.
“When we rented the packing machine, we had to work in two shifts because we were limited in time. With the new machine, it is possible to get a great result in a shorter time – we need less plastic, and it saves time. In addition, we will need to hire some extra local people to help us. Last year we produced 3,000 tons of silage, and we expect to multiply the numbers in the future. This is important because we sell the silage to farmers across Georgia. It is also practical for them as the shelf life of the silage packed with the new machine is 5 years,” saysLyudmila.
At this stage the work is underway in the fields, and the silage is being packed using the new machine. The final stage is transportation to the different municipalities. Lyudmila says the silage-packaging machine has radically changed their business. They would have never made this progress without receiving a grant.
“Now the crisis is so severe that people no longer have money, it is difficult for them to buy from farms, and we sell at normal prices. At the same time, we employ local people and immediately pay them for their work. This grant has been vital to us amid the pandemic. Honestly, I feel like in a fairy tale. I cannot believe what is happening. I hear from other farmers that they also received grants and I am so thankful that people could benefit even in such unfavourable economic situation in the country,” says Lyudmila Manuilova.
Bezhan Gonashvili, a farmer from Dedoplistskaro
Bezhan Gonashvili, from Dedoplistskaro, used the EU-FAO grant to buy a tractor during the pandemic. As a farmer, he needed the tractor to cultivate the area of land he owns, which he previously had to farm with an old tractor.
“During the crisis people no longer have money; livelihoods have shrunk, because many things have stopped working in the country. I had an old tractor, which I could never have replaced with my own money, had it not been for the EU and FAO support,” Bezhan says.
The community also benefited from his new tractor, as the farmer could plough 20 hectares of land per day so he is also helping to provide ploughing and sowing services to neighbour farmers.
‘Because of Covid-19, I let people use the tractor for free. The only thing I ask for is to put in normal quality fuel, because it is a very good tractor and I care for it. I’m glad that the grant enabled me to advance my business and help not only my family, but also people around me,’ says Bezhan Gonashvili.