Monday, December 18, 2006

Barriers to Cooperative Ventures in Rural Georgia: Feisty Farmers

Much has been made about the collapse of agriculture in Georgia. From the overgrown tea plantations surrounding Zugdidi to the sere fields that used to be replete with apples in Gori, one encounters fallow land wherever one goes.

The international community and increasingly the Georgian government itself have been asking how successful agricultural ventures can be increased throughout Georgia. Sergo Baramidze, a CRRC fellow, set out to investigate barriers hindering the development of cooperatives and other forms of business partnerships in the rural areas of West Georgia.

Baramidze found that in rural communities of Georgia, peasants and small-scale farmers tend to be self-reliant and not interested in forms of cooperation, such as agricultural or credit cooperatives. For instance, only 5% of the credit unions developed through the World Bank attained a modicum of success.

The researcher highlighted five main barriers hindering co-op developments in rural areas of Georgia: 1) peasants and small-scale farmers are unfamiliar with the benefits of cooperation; 2) farmers are not educated about the principles of community resource management; 3) there is no concrete plan for the development of small farm cooperative markets in rural communities; 4) villagers distrust each other too much to cooperate; 5) a lack of financing exists for agricultural development.

In order to improve co-op development in rural areas, Baramidze suggests developing cooperative management training materials based on recommendations developed by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and Credit Agricole and adopting them to the local Georgian environment taking into consideration aspects of Georgian cooperative heritage – soviet farms (kolkhoz) and Georgian co-ops that existed before the Soviet revolutions in 1917 and 1921 – that may still be useful in contemporary Georgia. Moreover, Baramidze suggests incorporating the best types of social interactions of communities existing in rural Georgia’s day-to-day life into the business cooperation. For example, Baramidze believes that practices developed from Georgian eating and drinking culture such as the unique method of delegation of toasts to other members of table (alaverdi) could be transferred into the business life of rural communities.

The idea of using traditional practices and incorporating them into modern democratic traditions is an exercise most certainly worth further consideration.


Unknown said...

That idea of using the delegation of toasts at a supra as a model for rural business development is interesting and seems pretty unusual, but . . . how would that work specifically, does Baramidze think? Who'd be the business tamada, so to speak? And how do you get people to see the psychological connection between a cultural ceremony and a for-profit business operation?

Anthony said...

notable exception is the Dukhoborets kolkhoz in Gorelovka, Javakheti. This Dukhobor cooperative has done very well in terms of production and revenue over the past decade but a huge tax debt and the Georgian Dukhobor exodus to Russia has put a damper on things.
For full details see Nina Akhmeteli's (excellent) article in Georgia Today:

Writer'n said...

I think there is a substantial problem besides having tamadas run the business. One thing I discovered is that the ability to think ahead of the next day is somewhat limited. (And by all means understandable due to the difficult situation and past history). I think the traditions can be more of an obstacle than a solution here. You need the ability to postpone the reward of your investment in order to succeed in business. That was not whet the Soviet System cultivated in individuals. I have seen the same process in unilateral industrial communities in Norway too. What happens is that in generations people have been taught to rely on "the master" and being rewarded for not thinking themselves. The population becomes dependent, and out of this the people become passive and tend to think more of instant gratification rather than long term investment in the future and a postponed gratification. It's a way of thinking which have to change over time. In Norwegian unilateral industrial communities, investments in new industry and activity mostly have failed. Probably because of this kind of "culture". I think it contains some elements of learned inability among workers in this communities.

As a Georgian example I will share with you an experience I had: In "a region" I discovered an extremely beutiful river / surroundings. People told me that it held big trout in earlier days. A paradise for flyfishers indeed. (In Norway you can sell one week of trout-fishing in a less delightful location for $ 2000). So why had the fish disappeared? Because the most popular way for the locals to fish was by using dynamite and electricity. The discussion around the lack of sustainability with the locals concerning the fact that the river could be a possible source of income if they stopped this mindless destruction of the river revealed a total disconcern. Nobody would even think about it. The fact that the river would supply even more fish in short time didn'n strike them as interesting either. Instead I was invited to join some young guys in blowing up some fish, so I could discover the exitement too.

I think maybe a tamada isn't a sufficient solution. Time and new generations might develop a more sustainable development, and another attitude to long term investment.

Please consider this is just a reflection over the matter in black and white :-)

Eistein G. said...

Hm...The recent post should be signed as "Writer'n". Don't really know what happened here. Sorry

Unknown said...

The Georgia Today article Anthony refers to quotes Hedvig Lohm from the European Center for Minority Issues (ECMI), who says that if the Georgian government were to forgive the tax debt of the Dukhoborets cooperative it would be an important step for the Georgian government towards welcoming ethnic minorities. But I wonder how many other ex-kolkhozes are in the same debt situation? Does anyone have any idea?

The underlying question here is to what extent the Georgian government should grant special favors to its national minorities when similar problems exist in the ethnic-Georgian parts of the country too. This was an issue that arose during EMCI’s conference on Tuesday on Integration of National Minorities. At the conference, a number of local government representatives from the Samtskhe-Javakheti and Kvemo-Kartli regions voiced concerns that the Georgian government was neglecting the development of their regions, especially in terms of infrastructure and education. The obviously correct answer is that there are many parts of Georgia that lack rigorous educational institutions and opportunities, and that are equally isolated by poor infrastructure and investment. Neglect of the minority-populated regions probably has less to do with purposeful policy and more to do with incompetent government generally. Yet given Georgia’s commitment to the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the exponential rise in attention to minority issues on the part of donors recently, should Georgia prioritize the development of minority populated regions over other regions? Such steps could anger ethnic Georgians living in the same conditions, who may view such action as preferential treatment. So what’s the best policy that will simultaneously “embrace” and “integrate” national minorities, avoid the alienation of non-minorities and prevent the possible rise of tensions between the two?

HansG said...

I think the interesting question to ask here is whether the Supra traditions ever have successfully been used. There is, of course, the argument that they embody a spirit of deliberation. But is anyone aware of any samples? Florian Muehlfried's research may be interesting on this.

Unknown said...

I agree with Eistein.
Interesting Idea about Supra. It would be definitely more useful to talk about some practical Ideas and not only explain love to the hole world :) but, at supras people do discuss different (interesting) aspects of practical life and I think their is just lack of INTEREST to such aspects, other ways people sitting around the table more than 6 hours would come to such Topics.