In Georgia, the potato is nicknamed the “second bread” due to its status as a staple food. It’s commonly found on tables in all corners of the country, from Ozurgeti to Omalo and from Akhalkalaki to Ambrolauri. But while potatoes are in high demand by households, restaurants, and food processors, potato farming is not a major contributor to economic growth.
Why? Because the ever-increasing demand for potatoes is met mostly with imports – in July-August of 2021 alone, imports were 26 percent higher than for the past three years. Georgia’s domestic potato production is inefficient and small in scale, with most potato farmers relying on low quality seed potatoes that are prone to a variety of diseases. This means that, despite the best efforts of farmers, much of the potato crop is lost each year, and most of what leaves the farm doesn’t meet the quality standards of major supermarkets, restaurants, and food processors.
More income for farmers, more jobs for Georgian workers
To capitalize on growing demand, how can Georgia close the gap between potato consumers and the potato-producing rural communities most in need of revenue and jobs?
That’s where USAID assistance comes in. In 2019, the USAID Potato Program was launched, an initiative with a straightforward name and a straightforward objective: to give Georgia’s potato farmers the technologies, tools, and training they need to produce high-quality potatoes on a sufficient scale to compete with imports and drive economic growth in their communities.
To help farmers overcome key challenges in the sector, we brought in the expertise of the International Potato Center (CIP), the world’s leading potato research institute. CIP provides potato farmers around the world with the technologies and techniques they need to upgrade their production and meet market demands – helping farmers and workers earn a better living by providing people with high-quality and affordable potatoes.
“This multifaceted program is increasing yields for farmers and placing nutritious, locally-grown potatoes on the marketplace at higher quantities and at affordable prices. And, what’s more, our work with the private sector in this area is creating jobs for Georgians” said USAID/Georgia Mission Director Peter Wiebler.
Bringing innovation into a traditional industry
While the program has a straightforward goal, the technologies involved are sophisticated. In Akhaltsikhe, a city in southern Georgia at the center of potato country, the program established a state-of-the-art potato seed laboratory and model seed production farm.
The facility uses in-vitro fertilization to produce seed potatoes (the first stage in the field production process) for 19 different varieties of potato – all resistant to disease and competitive on international markets. These seed potatoes are then distributed to farmers in the local area, allowing them to upgrade their own production.
Every seed potato generated and sold in Georgia means fewer dollars going abroad, and not only because the resulting crop replaces potato imports. “Right now, we [Georgian farmers] buy seed potatoes from Holland and Germany for as much as eight million Euros annually,” said Makhare Matukatov, a project coordinator with the USAID Potato Program based in Akhalkalaki. “We hope [our] demonstration fields will entice more farmers to join our project and elevate the potato sector to new heights.”
To institutionalize the use of modern potato seeds and production methods, the program is building a network of partner farmers responsible for disseminating improved potato varieties and associated technologies throughout the country. By the end of 2022, the program aims to provide top-quality seed potatoes to more than 15,000 smallholder farmers across Georgia, resulting in revenue growth of about USD 8.7 million per year.
More potatoes today, more jobs tomorrow
The program is designed to bring long-term benefits. It also meets an immediate need in Georgia’s economy. The supply chain disruptions created by the COVID-19 pandemic made more obvious the need for more domestic production. This strengthens food production capacity, and helps Georgia build resilience against future supply shocks, whether a pandemic or some other global challenge. A more competitive agriculture sector not only increases the ability to produce food domestically in times of crisis, but also boosts the country’s export profile and creates jobs in rural communities.
About the USAID Potato Program in Georgia
Funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by the International Potato Center (CIP), the USAID Potato Program in Georgia is developing a domestic supply chain of high-yielding, disease resistant potatoes that are commercially attractive, from generating high quality seed through improved production quantity and quality. This assistance helps farmers generate higher revenues and supply to local and international markets, establishing a potato industry that can drive economic development in rural communities. For more information, visit: https://www.usaid.gov/georgia/our-programs.
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