Georgia has a centuries-long tradition of growing herbal tea. Shota Kopaliani lives in the village of Chalistavi, in the Tsageri region. He inherited the culture of tea-making from his ancestors, and to this day he takes care to preserve and develop it. He is one of the entrepreneurs who has managed to develop and grow his own production with the support of the EU/Sweden/Austria co-funded GRETA project. With the support of the project, his enterprise was equipped with machines for processing and drying the wild plants. It is with these devices that he will be able to produce the certified organic tea.
Although the price of tea produced in the country is low, and its quality is mostly better than that of imported products, imported tea still occupies 80% of the market. Entrepreneur Shota Kopaliani saw an opportunity to start producing certified organic local tea. In his opinion, Georgian tea has high potential to compete with imported products on the local market:
“In Lechkhumi, nobody produces tea besides us, and so we do not have competitors. Our only competitor is nature – giving us the source of livelihood. Also, it is noteworthy that all these products are used for treatment purposes. My wife and I decided to turn this activity into a business some six to seven years ago. With our own hands we made a dryer. The necessary equipment was very expensive and unfortunately, we couldn’t afford it, so for years it was hard for us to expand. Whatever we made, we invested in this work. The GRETA project was like a salvation for us. It helped us avoid the loans which would take us a lifetime to cover. If not for the support of the EU, Sweden and Austria, we could never have done all this independently,” says Shota Kopaliani.
The machines given to Shota Kopaliani within the framework of the project will enable him to give the product its final, marketable look – a roller and four dryers were added to his enterprise, also a device that will package the tea in 100-150-gram bags. The cardboard packaging machine will give the product its final look.
“Apart from this, as part of the project, we will receive a pickup, a car that we need to find and transport the primary product. All the plants that we make tea from grow in the wild, in the mountains, on the cliffs and are difficult to pick. We have an old car, we try to reach these places by car, as far as we can get, then in the mountains we continue on foot. Besides, the leaves are perishable, they overheat and if we do not bring them back soon, they may overheat and wither. Purchasing a pickup is essential for our production,” says Shota.
Currently Shota’s enterprise produces the tea from blueberry, blackberry, linden, wild quince and rhododendron. Now, with EU support, he has the basis to think about expansion in the future and give the experimental tea blends from various leaves the look of the final product, an opportunity he did not have before without the necessary equipment.
Kakhaber Gasviani is another beneficiary of the GRETA project from the Tsageri region. At 1,000 metres above sea level, there is a green lake in the village of Kulbaki. In 2005, Kakha Gasviani started to look after the abandoned pond and thick forest. Inspired by his love of fishing, he decided to arrange trout ponds and started developing agro-tourism. Since 2014, five families have joined together, creating a cooperative “The Green Lake of Kulbaki”, and purchased the necessary equipment to develop trout farming.
With the support of GRETA, the enterprise will be equipped with fish food processing machines (with a modern production line), through which Kakhaber will have the opportunity to produce food from local produce for his own, as well as other fishery farms. With the assistance of the project, the producer will reduce costs and increase income. Additionally, several local residents will be employed.
“By the end of 2021, we will be able to start producing organic food for fish, which is a completely new product in Georgian fishery. There has been a need for this for a long time in the region, as well as in Georgia, because there is practically no locally produced food available in the market. By our calculation, it will be possible to produce more than 50 tons of organic food each year, which will be reflected in both expansion of the trout ponds and the increase in the number of fish. Bio-food and the fish grown on this food will be interesting not only to the locals but also to foreign buyers,” says Kakhaber Gasviani.
As Kakha tells us, there are many problems with fish food. Mostly the products come from abroad and are expensive, which is why small trout farms often close down soon after opening, because feeding the fish is so costly.
“Regarding food, there have been cases when the product has arrived and has been spoiled or expired that might cause the death of fish. I’ve also had such case, when spoiled food killed my fish. All the ingredients in this food are also available in Georgia, they are simply not produced. And it would significantly reduce the cost of this food, which will definitely be reflected in the price of the fish.”
Kakhaber Gasviani says that the project understands the needs of small business, which strengthens and supports the entrepreneurs to grow economically – “the locally produced product becomes more reliable, you know what food you are giving to the fish. Also, you buy the ingredients from local residents – corn, flour or any other product, which in turn strengthens other local production. Consequently, demand increases for them as well and they have the possibility to expand their business. There are many small trout farms in Racha-Lechkhumi and Svaneti, waiting for us to start the production. The necessary machine has already been purchased and will arrive in Georgia in two months, and we will start the production very soon. In the beginning we plan to cover these regions. Of course, all this again strengthens the country’s economy. The stronger the business, the more stable the economy in the country,” says Kakhaber Gasviani.
The GRETA project – ‘Green Economy: Sustainable Mountain Tourism and Organic Agriculture in Georgia’ has been ongoing for 2 years with the support of the European Union, Austria and Sweden, and is implemented in Georgia by the Austrian Development Agency. The project aims to facilitate the improvement of the business environment and increase opportunities for generating additional income for the Georgian economy in two important sectors, mountain tourism and organic agriculture. Small and medium entrepreneurs will be given the opportunity to receive the necessary financial assistance to improve their production and services, discover new market opportunities and through locally produced high quality products, compete with imports.
The project is implemented in close cooperation with the local government and involves the regions of Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti, Racha-Lechkhumi-Kvemo Svaneti and upper Imereti, where the entrepreneurs are involved from the municipalities of Mestia, Lentekhi, Tsageri, Oni, Ambrolauri, Sachkhere, Chiatura and Tkibuli. At this stage, the project involves 400 small enterprises engaged in tourism and 230 farmers engaged in organic agriculture, who receive various types of assistance from the project. Those interested can obtain full information from the agriculture development services of the municipalities’ administrations or from the project web page - https://gretaproject.ge.
GRETA also helps beneficiaries throughout the process of obtaining the bio-certificate, which doubles the reliability of the manufactured product and creates the opportunity to enter the international market. Additionally, the project helps the participants to communicate with large companies in marketing direction, which increases the potential for rapid market penetration.