Saving Tusheti and Tushetians, Czech style
03 July, 2015
60-year-old Elene Gagoidze is the only woman who considers Tusheti region’s picturesque Shenako village her permanent home. Despite very harsh conditions of life, she and her husband have spent decades in this place, refusing to leave it no matter what. In winter, they raise livestock, while in summer they grow potatoes.

”We should focus more on keeping Tushetians in Tusheti and ensuring they do not desert this part of Georgia”

Tusheti, a mountainous region in the northeast of Georgia, is
one of the most breathtakingly beautiful of the country’s protected areas. However, for many years it was essentially separated from the outside world – in the 1980’s, electricity supply to the region was cut and restored only a few years ago with the help of Czech Development Agency.
But the local population still lives in hardship, in no small part due to the only road that connects Tusheti to the rest of the country. This road is 72 kilometers long, stretching from the village of Omalo through Abano and then to the village of Pshaveli; at the Abano mountain pass, it reaches the altitude of 2950 meters above sea level. Because of heavy snowfalls, the pass closes in October and remains so until the middle of May. Even if it wasn’t the case, the area would be impassable for most of the year anyway. Due to this, most denizens of Tusheti’s villages actually live in their homes only in summertime, overwhelmingly preferring to spend winters in Kakheti.
It is precisely the return of Tushetians to their native region that has become the purpose of the new project by Czech Development Agency. The project aims to assist with creating a traditional, stable industry in Tusheti and providing material and technical support to its beneficiaries. Within its framework, the main effort will be made towards strengthening agriculture and animal husbandry, namely growing potatoes and introducing mechanized shearing of sheep. However, all this should be achieved through farmers’ cooperation. The project started in 2013 and will continue toll 2016; its total budget comprises 510 000 EUR.

“The principle of cooperation makes it easier to acquire special vehicles and high quality seeds – we import them in large amounts and spend less. There’s also the issue of fuel, which is very acute in Tusheti”
Elene Gagoidze joined the potato farmers’ cooperatives last year; the family has contributed their entire harvest – 4 tons of potatoes – to the joint effort.
“Thanks to the cooperative, selling potatoes has become much easier for us. We have to work in very difficult conditions, so I think that having a cooperative is a necessary thing – it provides people with special vehicles and all other kinds of help,” says the farmwife.
Thanks to the project, the farmers’ associated expenses were covered during the first year, but from now on they have to manage their transportation and other costs themselves.
Tushetian farmers are also given an opportunity to store their harvest - both potatoes and wool – in a special warehouse before it is sold. The warehouse is located in the village of Kvemo Alvani; within the project’s framework, it was repaired and put back into shape.
According to Shorena Elanidze, chair of the farmers’ cooperative, Czech Development Agency has been of great help to them, teaching and training local farmers. In addition, the cooperative will soon have its own agronomist and a lawyer. She also says that there are 14 farmers from various villages currently registered as members; considering how thinly populated Tusheti is, with barely more than five people living in each village, this figure is quite an achievement.
“The principle of cooperation makes it easier to acquire special vehicles and high quality seeds – we import them in large amounts and spend less. There’s also the issue of fuel, which is very acute in Tusheti. The Czechs have provided us with a truck that we use to transport fuel to the region. Purpose of our project is to increase the farming output of Tusheti and sell the crops and wool to local family hotels,” explains Shorena Elanidze.
According to Hynek Ciboch, head of the project formulation department of Czech Development Agency, the essential part of the project focuses on the human resources support, provision of selected production inputs and coordination of sales of agricultural products. Local capacities will be developed through training with the target group of farmers or shepherds and trainers who will be able to pass on the acquired knowledge and skills. As he declared to Georgian Journal, for now the main problem is infrastructure and connection to the lowland road for locals.
“[Our project] is quite a challenge, because it introduces new standards for locals - they did everything the old way for decades and now they have to change their attitude and their minds to accommodate new processes of production. But it is evident that more and more of them start realizing that if they will join cooperatives, they can produce more, and they will get more important players in the market. They can also use agricultural inputs together, which can both get them lower prices and help them increase the volume. I think that increasing their productivity is the most important thing,” says Mr. Ciboch.
Supporting development of traditional agricultural industry in Tusheti is hardly the first project of Czech Development Agency in this area. It was precisely due to their help that denizens of Tusheti had solar panels installed in their homes, providing them with much-needed access to hot water.
According to Albert Sido, Attaché for Development Cooperation of Embassy of the Czech Republic to Georgia, that thanks to Czech Development Agency, another of Tusheti’s problems will soon be solved as well, and an important one, at that. Very soon, a clinic will open in the village of Omalo, and a doctor with a nurse will be at the locals’ service.
It would indeed be a huge relief for Tushetians, since to this day, the entire region was served by a single doctor, who moved around on horseback. Thanks to help of the Czechs, the new resident doctor will be provided with a Mitsubishi off-road vehicle.
Czech Development Agency have implemented a multitude of projects throughout Georgia in a variety of fields – healthcare, agriculture, education and women’s rights.
According to Albert Sido, the number one aim of the projects in Tusheti is to keep people in Tusheti.
“We should focus more on keeping Tushetians in Tusheti and ensuring they do not desert this part of Georgia. This is our top priority – to keep people here, because it is a beautiful part of Georgia, and the country cannot afford losing it,” says Mr. Sido.

Author: Mari Javakhishvili