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Volume 11, No. 2 Fall 2008
Agriculture: IOCC’s Next Wave
IOCC Georgia staff and University of Maryland professors visit the Samtskhe-Javakheti region where a new Beef Demonstration Farm has been set up to provide best practice training in beef cattle farming. Zaza Macharashvili is third from right. Photo credit: J. Hanson/University of Maryland

Tibilisi, Georgia — Zaza Macharashvili remembers how his grandfather spoke of their native Samtskhe-Javakheti, the mountainous alpine district of southern Georgia: “If a person knows how to work this land, he will become wealthy.” A cattle farmer who also grew potatoes, barley and wheat, Macharashvili’s grandfather knew how to farm this ancient and picturesque corner of Georgia known for its dry lands and extreme weather (temperatures can reach 104 degrees Fahrenheit in summer and -31 in winter).

But the region’s farmers face many challenges today including a central government that no longer guarantees purchases or provides subsidies as it did in the Soviet era. Macharashvili, a program manager for IOCC Georgia, says that farmers are also making mistakes such as selling their animals when prices are down because they don’t have the means to store them. “But Georgian farmers realize that in this new economy they have to be open to learning new ways,” says Macharashvili.

As part of its agricultural development program, IOCC recently launched a Beef Demonstration Farm, located on lands belonging to the Georgian Orthodox Church in the town of Akhalasikhe, the main center of Samtskhe-Javakheti. The purpose of the farm is to help Georgian farmers learn best practices in cattle farming, from animal care to pasture management to the most sanitary methods for delivering meat to market.

The program is part of a partnership between IOCC and the University of Maryland’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics to enable IOCC to achieve a core competency in agriculture. As part of his sabbatical from the University of Maryland, Jim Hanson is examining 35 IOCC agricultural programs in order to determine which ones have had the most long term success. “Our aim is to provide communities with sustainable agricultural systems that are profitable, good for the environment, and good for communities,” says Hanson. “This Beef Demonstration Farm has a real opportunity to make a significant contribution to this community.”

“The idea here is to learn from our experiences – such as working with farmers in Bosnia – so that IOCC is focused on building capacity as well as its emergency response,” says Constantine M. Triantafilou, IOCC’s Executive Director & CEO. Triantafilou says that any country IOCC is working in is “fair game” for creating an agricultural program that takes advantage of local labor and natural resources.

Throughout its 16 year history, IOCC has been implementing agricultural programs in both development and emergency contexts. After the civil war in Bosnia, IOCC provided emergency supplies of animal feed to farmers in Bosnia, as it is currently doing in Greece following the 2007 Peloponnese wildfires. In a development context, IOCC helped Bosnian farmers adjust to new market realities after the fall of Socialism by helping communities form agricultural cooperatives and by providing microfinancing for equipment.

“What has already emerged from our research,” says Hanson, “is that IOCC has had the most long term success in communities where it combined agricultural training with microcredit.”

The picturesque region of Samtskhe-Javakheti is known for its extreme weather and dry lands. IOCC is helping Georgian farmers from this area better manage their land and cattle. Photo credit: J. Hanson/University of Maryland


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