A Fruitful Future.

“When I first tried my hand at growing strawberry varieties introduced by USAID, I could hardly imagine that one day I would be heading a (farmers) association and hosting the First Annual Strawberry Festival in Samegrelo.”

Nana Pipia, a farmer from Chkhoria

“The festival has had a snowball effect of getting more and more farmers and fruit processing and distribution companies interested in the strawberry business in Samegrelo. It provided an incentive to replicate the technologies and best practices of strawberry growing.”

Nana Pipia, a farmer from Chkhoria

A local economic development program, the initiative also works to reduce poverty in rural households in Georgia and to strengthen the country’s value chains. To jump-start the local strawberry sector, the New Economic Opportunities Initiative first provided a grant to 10 smallholder fruit farmers, Nana Pipia included, in the Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti region.

This area was chosen for its warm and humid climate, which is perfect for growing strawberries. The grant funded the import of 60,000 strawberry seedlings from Spain. Chemonics helped the farmers form the Berry and Fruit Cultures Development Association, which formally registered in early 2013. This institutional support set up a new system for farmers to rely on as they began incorporating strawberry production in their agricultural practices.

After the seedlings arrived, the 10 handpicked farmers participated in extensive technical training, working with agricultural trainers and international strawberry experts. The Georgian smallholders learned a variety of methods, such as building drip irrigation systems, assembling greenhouses to attain the ideal growing climate, and adopting other modern production techniques. To maximize knowledge-sharing from these local farmers, the initiative established 10 open-field strawberry demonstration farms.

This extensive training paid off during the first harvest in December 2012. Less than three months after planting, the Samegrelo farmers cultivated 200 kilograms of strawberries, all of which were sold to markets in Zugdidi and neighboring Tsalenjikha. And the success continued. The second harvest, in April and May 2013, yielded about 12 metric tons of berries and brought in more than $25,400 of income.

By the time the association coordinated Georgia’s First Annual Strawberry Festival in late May, the newly trained Samegrelo farmers could clearly see the impact of the prior months of training and their subsequent use of more modern production technologies. The festival itself also reflected this success, attracting more than 5,000 visitors. During the event, the association sold more than 1,500 kilograms of strawberries and strawberry products, bringing in about $2,400 to put toward expansion and training. Georgians were taken aback at the festival’s popularity.

12

metric tons of berries harvested from April-May 2013

10

open-field strawberry demonstration farms established

5,000

attendees at Georgia’s First Annual Strawberry Festival

“I did not expect that so many people would come and that this festival would be so exciting,” Nana said.

At the same time, the Berry and Fruit Cultures Development Association is aware of the festival’s long-term economic impact, connecting local producers with regional distributors to set up a broader system of collaboration.

“The festival has had a snowball effect of getting more and more farmers and fruit processing and distribution companies interested in the strawberry business in Samegrelo,” Nana said. “It provided an incentive to replicate the technologies and best practices of strawberry growing.”

If strawberry harvests continue to be as lucrative as they have been, there is little doubt that Samegrelo’s future will be a fruitful one.