The FINANCIAL -- Georgian hazelnuts has moved from 7th to 2nd place in
the list of top ten export products in 2012, compared to in 2011.
GEL 45,876,600 of hazelnuts, 7,207 tons, was exported from Georgia in the first four months of 2012, making up 9 percent of total export.
The biggest importer countries of Georgian hazelnuts are Italy with GEL 7,630,900, Germany - GEL 7,895,400, Azerbaijan - GEL 4,645,900, France - GEL 1,473,300, Belgium - GEL 3,779,400 and Ukraine - GEL 2,937,600.
The hazelnut business is becoming very profitable for Georgian small farmers, especially in Western Georgia. But Eastern Georgia has been gradually becoming involving in this process as well. There are about 700 small farmers in the Samegrelo region who earn a living from the hazelnut business. Hazelnut farmers now feel financially secure due to their plantations.
The majority of these farmers have plantations of about 1-2 ha. Approximately 900 kg of hazelnuts can be harvested on one ha in Georgia, which is a very low rate. The frequency of trees on one ha is about 400-500 and one tree yields a harvest of 2-3 kg. If a harvest exceeds 1,000 kg it would be a big result given the current situation.
“There are several exceptions which have a higher harvest,” said Lasha Dolidze, Agricultural Policy Manager at the U.S. Government’s Economic Prosperity Initiative (EPI). “But here lies the second problem, the quality of Georgian hazelnuts is not very high. The highest price was recorded this year but this wasn’t as a response to the quality.”
Hazelnuts is one of the directions of EPI. The organization started working on this field in 2011 because of its huge potential.
“We have chosen hazelnuts because this field is developing quite fast in Georgia and has a big perspective of development in the short-term. The rate as well as geographical scale of export is increasing significantly. Small farmers are selling several tons annually and earning a living from it,” Dolidze said.
The average price of 1 kg of hazelnut is GEL 4. Farmers’ average annual income is GEL 8-10 thousand.
85 percent of total hazelnut plantations are located in Samegrelo. Guria is second by amount of hazelnuts. EPI is helping these farmers significantly. They are holding special trainings with the help of Ferrero which has 4,000 ha of hazelnut plantations in Georgia. Ferrero brings professional agronomists who hold special courses for small Georgian small farmers. EPI ensures the technical side of these trainings. EPI has not started trainings in Guria yet. But next year they plan to expand activities in Guria as well. Kakheti is gradually becoming involved in this process, as interest toward hazelnuts in rapidly growing throughout the country.
Dolidze doesn’t exclude the possibility that Ferrero and USAID will cooperate over hazelnut business development in Georgia.
“Farmers try to sell hazelnuts when the first high price is detected. This is not the right attitude for them to have, given that Turkey is a more sunny country and their harvest is earlier. So when the hazelnut is ready for harvesting in Turkey and they fix the price, hazelnuts are not yet ripe in Georgia. As farmers here go ahead and harvest them then, the quality is consequently not so high. They have to wait for a while and then the harvest will be of much better quality,” he explained.
The majority of hazelnut plantations in Georgia are old and therefore productivity is not high as well. Ferrero has four new plantations and one old one.
According to the interest in diversifying hazelnut procurement and developing hazelnut plantations in new areas, Ferrero Group launched the Hazelnut Business Development (HBD) programme in late 2006. Agrigeorgia was created in March 2007, following a deep investigation of Black Sea Area potential by HBD’s technical team. The first area of work was located near the city of Zugdidi, in the Samegrelo region.
Agrigeorgia is 100% owned by Ferrero Trading Lux (Luxembourg), a company with headquarters in Luxembourg and part of Ferrero Group worldwide, which originated in Alba (Italy), more than 60 years ago.
“Agrigeorgia invested several million EUR in the last four years in buying land through a privatization programme in cooperation with the Georgian Government, set-up the infrastructure, are preparing and cultivating the land with hazelnut plantations,” said Merab Chitanava, Head of the General Affairs Department at AgriGeorgia. “We now employ more than 150 people, with hundreds of temporary workers.”
Agrigeorgia is continuing to invest and develop the hazelnut plantations in Georgia.
The Gali district of Georgia is characterized by one of the highest harvests. The territory has been occupied by Russia since the War in Abkhazia in 1992. That said however quite a large share of hazelnut products from Gali are sold in Zugdidi.