Set on the eastern coast of the Black Sea, at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Georgia is a country with unique gastronomy that requires authenticity. That faithfulness to tradition is emblematic in the supra — or Georgian feast — conducted by a charismatic toastmaster, over savory dishes. It is also demonstrated in Qvevri winemaking, now considered an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. Overall, farmers grow vegetables, nuts, beans, herbs, fruits, and raise a variety of livestock prepared as the main dish for many proper meals. The source of Georgian culinary quality, from these examples and more, originates from its agricultural community.
However, market linkage gaps can make it difficult for farmers to identify and sell to large-scale buyers. To address these challenges, USAID’s Zrda Activity in Georgia developed the AGRONAVTI app in partnership with the Georgian Farmers Association (GFA), which matches farmers with buyers in the hospitality industry through an unprecedented, user-friendly digital platform.
“I think AGRONAVTI is an innovation in the agro-sector that allows farmers to stay on the digital pulse, facilitating more productive and efficient farming activities,” said farmer Irakli Merkvilishvili. He operates a 15-hectare fruit garden in the village of Gori Municipality, near the occupied territory of South Ossetia.
AGRONAVTI has increased the quality and quantity of domestic produce by facilitating market linkages between buyers and sellers. This has significantly increased sales and revenue generation for small-scale farms and streamlined large-scale distribution from farms to the hospitality industry country-wide, ensuring safe and quality goods from farm to table. However, this wasn’t always the case; before the emergence of the app, farmers faced different challenges in establishing those large-scale markets.
Problems in a Bountiful Land
Agriculturally, Georgia is a bountiful country. Unfortunately, this farming distinction has been marred in recent years by armed conflict, outdated technologies, and aging infrastructure. In 2008, Russia supported the self-proclaimed republic of South Ossetia within Georgia, which led to a five-day war resulting in Russia occupying 20 percent of Georgia’s territory. Conflicts have constrained the agri-food supply chain and infrastructure, with rural areas specifically lacking post-harvest operations such as storage, handling, distribution, and markets.
Furthermore, most Georgian farmers have small family holdings, possessing just a little acreage of farmland and laboring mostly for family supply. This makes the country’s hospitality industry dependent on external resources, particularly foreign imports of agricultural products. With low profits, farmers lack the financial freedom to expand their farms and in turn, gain more profit.
Faced with these challenges, the USAID Zrda Activity, implemented by Chemonics, has sought to develop several solutions, one of which is the AGRONAVTI app.
A Match Made in Georgia
Starting in March 2016, the Zrda Activity collaborates with micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) across six regions and 81 communities. The $24.7 million activity assists citizens in strengthening their skills and productivity, in addition to developing ways to create and maintain multiple sources of income per household. This allows MSMEs to contribute to broad-based economic growth and resilience in Georgia.
The Zrda Activity also encourages cooperation between the public and private sectors to foster market linkages. The AGRONAVTI mobile matchmaking platform is one of the ways to achieve these market linkages. Presented in 2017, the app initially focused on aiding Georgian farmers with responding to requests for produce from the hospitality sector. With the app’s “matchmaking function,” farmers, via smartphones, can not only find buyers, but buyers (hotels, restaurants, and cafés) can also contact farmers directly for specific produce.
“I learned about the AGRONAVTI application before I was about to quit farming,” said Kakha Tutberidze, a farmer, and former financial expert, who made his dream a reality and constructed a lettuce greenhouse.
“I had problems with identifying the stable market for my produce,” Kakha said. “The Georgian Farmers Association, Adjara Group and Georgian Farmers Distribution Company helped me to start production of unique varieties of lettuce, bringing new products to the Georgian market. Such an approach contributes to import substitution — a real stimulus for me as a farmer.”
Given the success of the AGRONAVTI app, other donors expressed interest and invested additional funds to help designers expand the app’s functionality and customer base of farmers and buyers. This included additional value chains of goods: for example, livestock and dairy products.
GFA continuously conducts focus group discussions with users to improve functionality and ensure the app is updated with the latest guidance and resources. Growers can now also access agronomic information (crop production guides, pest management, etc.), weather forecasting, or even government-run land auctions.