First Bolnisi Int’l Forum Takes Rural Development Seriously

On Thursday and Friday of last week, June 13-14, the first Bolnisi International Forum took place. The event, co-organized by the municipal government of Bolnisi and the Mayors for Economic Growth (M4EG) Secretariat, was designed to support local agribusiness and promote rural development.

The forum, which organizers say “aspires to become an annual forum for relevant discussions and partnership building,” was held within the framework of the project Establishing a Platform for Efficient Flow of Business Activities in Bolnisi, funded by the EU – one of the 16 Pioneer Projects within the Mayors for Economic Growth program. It was attended by rural development actors from Georgia and other Eastern Partnership countries. More than 150 representatives from the Georgian government, the EU Delegation to Georgia, local governments, civil society, the private sector, microfinance organizations, and other development actors. International development organizations were also presented: UNDP, EBRD, and USAID. Participants came from across the region, including Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. They shared experiences and good practices on a variety of rural development topics, with particular attention to the role of good local governments and how to support agricultural businesses and small farmers.

David Sherazadishvili, Mayor of Bolnisi, opened the event with an address to participants, explaining that his municipality is working to gather, learn, and apply international best practices, particularly in the area’s major economic sectors – agriculture and tourism. “We hope that with the support of our international partners we will achieve this goal, and we are planning to hold the Bolnisi Forum annually as a platform for growth and exchange,” said Sherazadishvili.

Also addressing the gathered crowd was Catalin Gherman, Deputy Head of the Cooperation Section at the EU Delegation to Georgia. Gherman emphasized the value and importance of the forum, and its role in engaging a diverse range of actors from the development landscape. “This event shows the awareness of the municipalities of their need to develop local capacity in stimulating economy, and their demand for new solutions and approaches,” he said. “No national policy, however great it is, is enough to produce real change on the ground, without the local authorities taking the lead.”

Forum participants engaged in robust discussions, networked within the industry, and were given the opportunity to learn about investment opportunities in the Bolnisi municipality, including information on how the local government can support investors and entrepreneurs.

The M4EG Secretariat hosted two thematic, discussion-focused panels, on best practices and surmounting the challenges of agribusiness development from the Eastern Partnership. The panels expressed a culmination of efforts from the M4EG thematic group on Agriculture, which is made up of representatives from municipalities in the Black Sea region, “whose Local Economic Development Plans have agricultural business development as one of the high priorities for the local economy,” explains M4EG.

The First Bolnisi International Forum was concluded with a grape vine planting ceremony, wine tasting, and a Georgian folk music and dance performance.

By Samantha Guthrie

20 June 2019 18:32