Bleak times for organic farmers in Georgia – but there is hope
12 December, 2018
Bleak times for organic farmers in Georgia – but there is hope
Organic hazelnut production is a delicate plant in Georgia that has emerged just a couple of years ago. Various pests, among them the Asian stink bug Parosana, trouble hazelnut farmers and menace their livelihood – even before their businesses could really take off. “The stink bug invasion was a disaster and still is, especially for organic farmers”, says Mariam Jorjadze, director of the Biological Farming Association Elkana in Georgia.

Asian Parosana invaded Western Georgia in 2016. Although the bug attacks corn
and citrus fruits as well, it causes the most damage to hazelnuts – Georgia’s main food stuff export. While conventional farmers benefit from major chemical pesticides spraying campaigns by the government, the organic farmers are forbidden to use such combat methods.
Asian Parosana is a big threat to the Georgian hazelnut production

Last year, as a consequence, every third farmer couldn’t harvest any hazelnuts at all, says Jorjadze. “The organic sector is in danger. We don’t think it will be the end, but the next year is going to be very challenging”. The quality requirements for organic hazelnuts are especially high as they are mainly exported to Europe.

However, according to the governmental statistics only 15% of the losses in hazelnuts are directly linked to the stink bug. This number is supported by the observations of the members of Elkana. “There is high humidity in Western Georgia. Thus, we think that the main losses are caused by fungal diseases,” says Jorjadze.
A stink bug trap, photo courtesy: NFA

As a matter of fact, the reasons for the enormous losses of hazelnut farmers – in the organic as well as in the conventional production – are multiple and interconnected. For instance, when a stink bug attacks a nut and punctures its shell, this might not be the end of the fruit. However, the hole facilitates others pests such as fungi to penetrate the nut and infest it.

Georgian farmers need more agricultural know-how

That is why it is important that the organic farmers do not only trap and kill the stink bugs, but also invest much more time and work in the maintenance of their hazelnut orchards. “They must prune the shrubs properly in order to make sure there is enough light in the orchards and as a consequence less humidity and ergo less fungi”, says Jorjadze.

Read more: Training farmers to rescue the organic hazelnut production in Georgia

Most of the mainly small scale hazelnut farmers have not heard of the importance of such measures yet. But as hazelnuts have increasingly gained importance in the past years, more and more farmers have specialized in this commodity and have bigger and bigger hazelnut orchards.
Hazelnut orchard in the village of Pereta in Guria

“Of a mono-crop you need to take care like of a vineyard, that’s what we say to those farmers”, says Jorjadze. That is why, Elkana invests in agricultural trainings for the farmers. Elkana’s hope: Increasing know-how improves the management of hazelnut orchards and makes them more robust against pest attacks.

“Professional organic farmers achieved good quality in hazelnuts, even in these difficult times. Organic farmers, who are open-minded, have access to information, and who are ready to put their heart and soul in their farms will survive”, says Jorjadze.

Author: Martina Polek

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