24 October 2019, Tbilisi – Over 100 representatives of public, private and civil society organizations attended the conference, which summarized the results of the EU-supported two-year ENPARD project “Strengthening Rural Development models in Georgia”. The project, implemented by Mercy Corps, People in Need and CARE Austria, in partnership with the European LEADER Association for Rural Development (ELARD), ran since 2017 and aimed at promoting a community-driven rural development approach in Borjomi, Lagodekhi and Kazbegi municipalities. Through sharing the best European practices in rural development, the project has contributed to the implementation of the EU’s LEADER approach in the three municipalities, where it has helped establish Local Action Groups (LAGs), elaborate Local Development Strategies and provided EU grants to over 200 development initiatives. As a result, throughout the project implementation, more than 600 permanent job opportunities were created in all three municipalities.
The conference was officially opened by Vincent Rey, Head of Cooperation at the Delegation of the European Union to Georgia, Khatia Tsilosani, Deputy Minister of Environmental Protection and Agriculture of Georgia, Jan Černík, Embassy of the Czech Republic, Head of Development Cooperation, Irakli Kasrashvili, Director, Mercy Corps and Kristiina Tammets, Vice President of the European LEADER Association for Rural Development (ELARD).
“With EU support we have managed to set up three thriving local action groups bringing together public, private and non-governmental representatives which have stimulated local economies and supported over 600 new jobs. The EU is happy to see that the LEADER approached used for years in the EU to stimulate rural areas also works in Georgia, and we look forward to kee0 developing this approach further in the years to come,” - stated Vincent Rey, Head of Cooperation, Delegation of the European Union to Georgia.
“The European future is a declared priority of our country and it is crucial that with EU support agriculture and rural development projects are implemented. In the framework of ENPARD programme, with active involvement of our partner organizations, a number of important projects have been carried out in Georgia, the achievements of which we hope will positively impact the sector’s development,” – stated Khatia Tsilosani, Deputy Minister of Environmental Protection and Agriculture of Georgia.
“LEADER approach is important, as it has ensured active participation of local community representatives in the rural development of their area. Local Action Groups, which consist representatives of private sector, civil society and local government have identified local development priorities and through selection and funding of wide range of rural initiatives significantly contributed to the social-economic development of target municipalities and communities,” – underlined the director of Mercy Corps Georgia, Irakli Kasrashvili.
“Following the European LEADER approach, LAGs in Georgia have created a balanced municipal platforms, with active involvement of public, private and civil sectors, which ensure equal participation of each actor and the effective decision-making with high accountability. LAGs have been formed as the best societal platforms for collaboration, coordination, information exchange and planning best solutions for local development, based on the needs and priorities of the local population,” – said Tamar Mumladze, Lagodekhi LAG member.
The official keynote speeches were followed by panel discussions, involving the representatives of EU, government, EU-supported LAGs, private and civil society organizations. The discussions focused on the role of the European LEADER approach in promoting community-driven development in various municipalities in Georgia. The stakeholders also talked about the role of LEADER in shaping the rural development policy at the central level, reviewed the key results so far and envisioned future perspectives of the LEADER implementation in the country.
In the framework of the conference, Expo of EU-supported rural development initiatives from Borjomi, Lagodekhi and Kazbegi municipalities was organized, so the guests could observe the project’s actual results.
Since 2015, in the framework of the EU ENPARD programme in Georgia, eight Local Actions Groups have been created (in Borjomi, Lagodekhi, Kazbebgi, Dedoplistskaro, Tetritskaro, Akhalkalaki, Keda and Khulo municipalities), which, in collaboration with the EU partner organizations, are successfully implementing rural development projects. Up to 400 initiatives have already been funded by EU through their direct involvement country-wide. These initiatives are boosting production and services in the areas of agriculture, tourism, social and rural infrastructure and environment. They have already provided better employment to over 1000 rural households and benefited more than 10,000 people across the country. Currently, the EU’s LEADER methodology is being introduced and Local Action Groups established in four additional municipalities (Akhmeta, Tsalka, Tskaltubo and Mestia).