Building Farmer Cooperatives In Georgia: Supporting smallholder farming in the post-socialist context | Cooperative

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Smallholder farmers in Georgia face multiple challenges, including low productivity and poor access to the inputs and capacities that they need. Oxfam and its partners are implementing a programme that aims to increase agricultural productivity and support the competitiveness of smallholder farmers. The project works with smallholder farmers to establish and strengthen business-oriented farmer groups. The project also promotes changes to national policy and legislation, in order to create a more conducive environment for their development. Learning from the project reflects the particular challenges of supporting new forms of collective action in a post-Soviet context. This learning case study is part of a series of eight papers relating to Oxfam's economic justice programme in the Middle East, Asia and Eastern Europe, with a focus on collective action.
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  OXFAM CASE STUDY JULY 2015 www.oxfam.org.uk  Women producers dry rosehips in their solar greenhouse, Georgia. © Oxfam   BUILDING FARMER COOPERATIVES IN GEORGIA Supporting smallholder farming in the post-socialist context Smallholder farmers in Georgia face multiple challenges, including low productivity and poor access to the inputs and capacities that they need. Oxfam and its partners are implementing a programme that aims to increase agricultural productivity and support the competitiveness of smallholder farmers. The project works with smallholder farmers to establish and strengthen business-oriented farmer groups. The project also promotes changes to national policy and legislation, in order to create a more conducive environment for their development. Learning from the project reflects the particular challenges of supporting new forms of collective action in a post-Soviet context.  2 INTRODUCTION Poverty in Georgia is concentrated in rural areas, and smallholder farmers are particularly likely to be poor. The smallholder farming sector in Georgia faces multiple challenges, including low productivity and poor access to the inputs, knowledge and capacities that farmers need to build profitable farming businesses.  As part of the European Commission-supported programme ENPARD, 1  Oxfam and its partners are implementing a programme that aims to contribute to poverty reduction in rural Georgia through increasing agricultural productivity and supporting the competitiveness of smallholder farmers. The project works with smallholder farmers to establish and strengthen business-oriented farmer groups. The project is also promoting changes to the national policy and regulatory framework in support of small-scale farmers, in order to create an environment that is more conducive to the sustainable development of farmer groups in Georgia. The project is built on the assumption that collective action among small-scale farmers can support more productive and profitable smallholder agriculture. Collective action would enable farmers to achieve economies of scale, increase their incomes and eventually reduce the levels of poverty in their region. To achieve this, support for farmer groups needs to focus on building a range of capacities and on being business-oriented. For change to be sustainable, wider policy and institutional changes in support of farmer groups are also needed. Learning from the project reflects the particular challenges of supporting new forms of collective action in a post-Soviet context, where collective farming has historically had negative associations.   3  ABOUT OXFAM‟S PROGRAMME In Georgia, land was taken into state ownership during the Soviet era; however, in the 1990s, following the collapse of the former USSR, the Soviet system of collective farming within a planned economy was disbanded. Land ownership in Georgia was reformed and land was transferred to the private ownership of rural households. The agricultural landholdings that were distributed amongst the rural population were highly fragmented and very small. According to the Agricultural Census of 2004, 98.4 percent of all farms are smaller than five hectares, and 67 percent are smaller than one hectare. 2   Agriculture accounts for about 52 percent of the labour force in Georgia 3 . Smallholder farmers experience multiple problems in relation to the poor economic base, poor access to quality inputs and services, and limited knowledge and skills. They find it difficult to influence or respond to the conditions in the market economy that affect their competitiveness and their livelihoods. Figure 1 shows the inter-relation of different social and economic factors affecting smallholder farmers in Georgia. Figure 1: Challenges faced by smallholder farmers in Georgia Given these conditions, without stimulating and supporting grassroots collective action with the aim of developing profitable, competitive and sustainable agricultural enterprises, it will be impossible for smallholder farmers to achieve economies of scale and improve their livelihoods.  4 In response to the challenges facing smallholder agriculture in Georgia, Oxfam and its partners Action Against Hunger (ACF), the Rural Communities Development Agency (RCDA) and the Biological [organic] Farmers Association ELKANA jointly designed and are implementing an integrated programme of cooperative development and capacity building. The programme includes technical training and demonstration units; support to link farmers with state and private sector service providers and market actors; and advocacy to promote positive changes in the policy and regulatory frameworks. The ENPARD programme reflects the importance of providing assistance and expertise to new farmer groups and cooperatives, while simultaneously trying to change and improve the policy environment for the long-term benefit of smallholder agricultural cooperatives in Georgia. The four-year programme started in February 2014 and is working with 45 farmer groups, selected on the basis that they should include at least 30 percent women in their membership. As a result, of the 428 farmers in the targeted groups, almost half are women. The programme targets business-orientated smallholder farmers who own land of five hectares or less. The average monthly income of the rural households in the programme groups is almost 40 percent below the national average 4 . The farmer groups are receiving continuous and comprehensive support to enhance their institutional capacities and increase their negotiating power in the market. This support includes participatory organizational development and business planning trainings that comprise of various modules such as problem formulation and objective setting and action planning, agreeing on operating principles and organizational structure, statute development, business, finance and marketing planning. Programme activities have also focused on public messaging and information about cooperatives, and the creation of an organizational development toolkit and training to support the development of the new cooperatives.
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