EU Invests in Akhalkalaki to Preserve Heritage, Raise Employment

The European Union’s primary program for supporting agriculture and rural development in Georgia is the European Neighborhood Program for Agriculture and Rural Development (ENPARD). Launched in 2013 with a total budget of EUR 179.5 million, the main goal of ENPARD is to reduce rural poverty in Georgia.

Within the ENPARD project, the EU selected 12 target municipalities for direct support, implemented by international and Georgian non-governmental organizations: Tetritskaro, Dedoplitskaro, Borjomi, Kazbegi, Lagodekhi, Khulo, Keda, Tsalka, Mestia, Tskaltubo, Akhmeta, and Akhalkalaki. The Akhalkalaki project is being implemented by Mercy Corps with implementation support from the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs, Georgian-Dutch development technology firm Elva, and Irish organization West Cork Development Partnership.

Akhalkalaki is a small city with fewer than 10,000 people in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region, near Georgia’s borders with Turkey and Armenia. The population of the municipality is almost entirely ethnic Armenians, and there is generally a low knowledge of the Georgian language, making integration into the wider Georgian society and economic markets more difficult.

Earlier this week, the European Union Delegation to Georgia shared a success story from ENPARD Akhalkalaki that assists with strengthening employability and helps preserve the cultural heritage of the region. A major aspect of the project is distributing small and medium-sized grants within the target community, especially for startups and small businesses looking to expand.

In one project, the Akhalkalaki Adult Education Center was given 12,000 GEL, matched by 3,000 GEL of their own contribution, with which they purchased machines for knitting, sewing, and embroidery. The new equipment is used in free classes that teach techniques for making carpets, rugs, and tapestries with traditional Armenian-Georgian designs and patterns. There are no age or gender restrictions, but the classes are most popular among young and middle-aged women with an eye for building skills that could help them find employment, or even start their own business. The participants in the first course discussed opening a social enterprise together which could perhaps increase the number of tourists who to come to the region.

The project is one of only 16 funded by the ENPARD program in Akhalkalaki. Across the 12 ENPARD municipalities, more than 360 rural development projects have been selected for funding, with more to come. Projects include the renovation of public facilities such as parks, sports stadiums, or kindergarten playgrounds, the renovation and expansion of businesses from guesthouses to paintball parks to dairy processing factories, or community projects like developing a tourist guide for little-known areas. The priority areas for funding vary by municipality, as they are based on the Local Development Strategy created by the Local Action Group – a non-profit organization that acts as the voice of local people in an area, as a counterpart to municipal government. Local Action Groups have been established in all ENPARD municipalities, in accordance with European best practices of rural development, under the LEADER model of community-led local development, which has seven principles: area-based, bottom-up, public-private partnerships, innovation, integration, networking, and co-operation. The ENPARD program is scheduled to end in 2022.

By Samantha Guthrie


11 July 2019 18:10