Giorgi Gakharia: The state must support each farmer technologically, intellectually, and with access to financing, and then we will have real results
It is a great pleasure being here in such a warm environment in Zugdidi, especially on such an important occasion. Although I see representatives of other regions here, and hazelnuts are also grown elsewhere in Georgia-in Guria, Adjara, Imereti, and Kakheti, for example-Samegrelo is the leading hazelnut producing region. It is, therefore, no coincidence that this festival is held in Zugdidi, Samegrelo, and there is no question about it, Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia stated in his speech at an event celebrating the Hazelnut Festival. According to the Head of Government, hazelnut farming is very important to Georgia's economy, and despite this year having been very difficult epidemiologically, with numerous restrictions, both agricultural and infrastructural work has been in full swing all along. "There are things we have to agree on. For example, we have been debating a lot on the name of this event. Some suggested Tkhiloba, others Tkhirish Korufa [in Megrelian]. Yes, we can call it Tkhiloba, but here in Zugdidi it will always be Korufa. Importantly, we must all agree that Georgian farmers and hazelnut farming are very important to this region, and to Georgia's economy in general.
And although this year having been very difficult epidemiologically, with numerous restrictions and recession, both agricultural and systemic infrastructural work has been in full swing all along. The results we have today include the peach harvest in Kakheti-and the country's peach export has nearly doubled, about 20,000 tons as opposed to a bit over 10,000 last year-now apples are about to be picked in Shida Kartli, and we expect 3 times the crops, looking to have about 120,000 tons. Now we are in Samegrelo, and hazelnut harvest has already started, and that is what our event is celebrates. As you know, we expect about 50,000 tons to be exported from the region and bring in about 100 million USD," the Prime Minister said.
Giorgi Gakharia emphasized that significant progress is in place since the 2016 stink bug epidemic, and the fight against this pest has been a global role model for this type of effort.
"We all must understand that, even though these are not astronomical numbers, compared to the situation in this industry two, three, or four years ago-especially in light of the 2016 stink bug epidemic in Samegrelo-we have obvious progress. The country's fight against this pest has been a global role model for this type of effort. There are far more advanced countries unsuccessfully dealing with problem for decades, yet it took us only 3-4 years in Georgia. The problem is not completely gone, but a great deal of knowledge has accumulated among farmers. I remember going into a hazelnut thicker as a child, a thicket so dense that you could not even see the sky. Complete dark. And now it brings so much joy being in a hazelnut thicket. It takes knowledge, cooperation between the state and farmers, cooperatives and associations, to achieve real results," the Prime Minister said. The Head of Government thanked the Georgian Hazelnut Growers' Association for organizing the event, and emphasized that Georgia can easily double its hazelnut export through diligent and effective work.
"This country can easily double its hazelnut export through diligent and effective work. We must be able to harvest 100,000 tons of quality hazelnuts. And to that end, more orchards must be planted. More importantly, however, we must increase yield per hectare. And that takes expertise and technology. I would like to thank the association for organizing this event. As far as I know, it presently consists of 25,000 members. No region, and no industry, has such a well-organized association. And this tradition must continue," Giorgi Gakharia said. According to him, despite the pandemic, the country's agricultural export is growing thanks to join efforts, and that is a fact.
"Ultimately, we all must agree on the rules of the game. We must know that the state is obligated to carry out systemic reforms. The state must support each farmer technologically, intellectually, and with access to financing, and farmers must work hard and honestly, so that we all may provide for our families and eventually empower our villages, cities, regions, and country. That is our goal, and we all must work toward it just the way we have been working in the hazelnut sector over the past 3-4 years. No matter what, we must pay more attention to agriculture, which has become especially evident during the pandemic, when importing basic goods posed a systemic problem. Today, though our joint efforts, the country's agricultural export is growing despite the pandemic, and that is a fact, and hazelnut will take its considerable niche. Most importantly, I wish you peace and effective fruits of your labor-and faith, of course. Nothing is more important than incomes from honest work and a sense of pride because of it. You can count on the state, local government, and the Ministry at your service. I addressed ordinary farmers today: If you see that local governments are slackening their efforts, grab them and shake them. Results are tangible in the hazelnut industry today. Each farmer, everyone growing these crops, can be proud of it today. I wish you success and victory, and my wish for you is to double Georgia's hazelnut export in the next 3-5 years. Together we can do it.
And now I yield the floor to Levan Davitashvili, a man who, in 2016-2017, was instructed to deal with the stink bug problem, and has worked very effectively in this direction over the years to produce the result that we have today. I remember cooperating with the association and realizing how much effort it took us to secure necessary pesticides for each farmer's household. And that should be credited to Levan," the Head of Government emphasized.
The festival's participants were also addressed by Minister of Environmental Protection and Agriculture Levan Davitashvili, Director of the USAID Office of Economic Growth Marika Olson, and Executive Director of the Georgian Hazelnut Growers' Association Giorgi Todua. The guests visited an exhibition organized as part of the Hazelnut Festival in the garden of the Dadiani Palace.