EU-supported Agro Center helps locals develop production in Bolnisi

Guram Avkopashvili, the founder of “Brothers’ Cellar” and his brother Giorgi are the fourth generation of the family, who are engaged in viticulture and winemaking in Bolnisi. The brothers produce natural wine using the traditional Georgian method. Their new vineyards of “Chinuri”, cultivated in the village of Ratevani, Bolnisi Municipality, has been growing for five years.

“Brothers’ Cellar” started producing and bottling natural wine using the Georgian traditional method in 2015. However, like other winemakers, they also had problems filtering, bottling, labelling and storing old wine. This year, Guram and Giorgi Avkopashvilis’ small family winery, as well as other winemakers, will solve these problems easily. The wine producer says that they were allowed to do so after the opening of the Agro Center in Bolnisi. “Brothers’ Cellar” initially prepares wine for the Georgian market, but plans to export it in the future.

“This is one of the best projects that has ever been implemented in Bolnisi. It has facilitated local people’s work and given them a chance to expand production. Up to 900 family wineries in Bolnisi will use the services of the Agro Center, as the prices for the services are very low. Most importantly, European standards of wine production are being introduced in Bolnisi. That is why we, the residents of Bolnisi, are confident that we will sell the 150,000 bottles of wine that we will bottle in the Agro Center this year with last year’s harvest.” – Guram Avkopashvili says.

The Agro Center opened in Bolnisi municipality in January 2020 as part of the EU-funded Mayors for Economic Growth (M4EG) initiative. The Center offers local farmers expertise and consulting in finance and accounting, as well as marketing and legal services. It also offers up-to-date packaging and labelling equipment meeting European standards. Here local farmers can pour their wine from kvevri, filter, bottle and label it. The Agro Center also gives farmers information and knowledge they need for professional development.

It is noteworthy that the project activities are based on a study of the municipality’s production capabilities, in which a cluster approach was used at the municipal level for the first time in Georgia. The study has identified a winemaking pre-cluster and showed the importance of developing agribusiness, tourism and building materials clusters and the need for establishing an integrated cluster. It also showed economic benefits of those business clusters.

Another entrepreneur, who has enjoyed the Agro Center’s services, is Meri Makharadze, a cheesemaker from Disveli village, Bolnisi Municipality. The village is inhabited by eco-migrants from Adjara. The enterprise “Disveli” currently employs nine local women and produces various types of Georgian cheese from local milk. It processes up to 2 tons of milk per day. The enterprise is equipped with food safety standards, products are labelled on the spot and sold in the local market.

“At this point we needed to do some paperwork for our enterprise and we managed it with legal assistance from the Center. When the enterprise grows, we will need packaging services and will use them for sure.” – says Meri Makharadze.

In 2017, the EU announced a grants competition within the framework of M4EG initiative. Bolnisi municipality’s project “Establishing a platform for efficient flow of business activities in Bolnisi” hit the top three and received funding totalling EUR 320,000.

“We immediately arranged needs assessment meetings and found out that local farmers needed our support above all. Initially, no building construction was planned. The project envisaged provision of necessary equipment and allocation of a space under the Agro Center. But when the municipal authorities saw the EU’s support, they decided to construct a building. This is an example of how a small EU initiative can grow into something big,” said Natalia Kakabadze, M4EG project manager.

Tourism development was another direction funded within the EU-supported project. Renovation will be soon over in the historic center of Bolnisi, where cafes, hotels and restaurants will open in the future.

“The renovation of Stepania Street in Katharinenfeld area in the center of the town is almost complete. The area was built by German migrants. The works include improvement of infrastructure, facades, sidewalks, lighting, stonework and installation of signposts and markings. This year we also planned to train tourism sector workers, but the situation in the world has made us change our plans and now we are going to arrange online training. This project has motivated local people. Katharinenfeld marketing strategy has also been developed to attract tourists to the municipality,” said Meri Abramishvili, head of the project management department at Bolnisi Municipality.

The Agro Center is located on a central highway at the Bolnisi entrance. The building has a meeting space for farmers. According to the latest data, Bolnisi is predominantly populated with ethnic Azerbaijanis (63.38%) with Armenians making 5.02%. This is why the center offers services in both Azerbaijani and Armenian languages. Currently, the center has eleven staff members, including two representatives of ethnic minorities.

For more stories like this and information on the campaign, visit: A Good Harvest.

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