Good Signs for Georgia’s 2019 Hazelnut Harvest

Amidst the economic uncertainties and risks of Russia’s flight ban to Georgia, and harsh late spring weather in many parts of the country damaging crops, finally – some good news for Georgia’s economy.

Over the past few years, Georgia’s once promising hazelnut industry has been severely impacted by the brown marmorated stinkbug – an invasive pest that has been the target of several government and private eradication initiatives with mixed success. The stink bug problem reared its ugly head in Georgia in 2015. The bugs are thought to have first appeared in the Abkhazia region, which increased the complexity of eradication operations as Abkhazia is currently an occupied territory. The pests destroyed a large amount of Georgia’s hazelnut harvest in 2016 and continued to cause widespread devastation in 2017.

The 2018 Georgian national budget included 4 million GEL ($1.6 million) for the fight against the pests. International organizations, among them the International Plant Protection Convention and the European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization, are cooperating with the Georgian side to effectively counter the threat. This January, the Government approved plans to continue fighting the stink bug in 2019. “The plan includes more effective steps, including the improvement of communication with the population,” read a press release from the Prime Minister’s Office. As part of the new measures, farmers now receive text messages on their cell phones informing them about planned mitigation activities. Representatives of the National Food Agency have been holding regular public awareness meetings on the use of methods to protect homes and reduce stink bug populations. The National Food Agency asserts that their efforts have helped prevent the spread of stink bugs in eastern Georgia, and in western Georgia the pest’s populations have decreased.

GeoStat trade data from January – April 2019 shows that Georgia imported $24.5 million worth of edible fruit, nuts, and grapes, a $0.4 million increase year-on-year. The increase in imports is primarily driven by nuts, including hazelnuts, which had already exceeded $7 million in the first four months of 2019. Increased nut imports were necessary to balance the 24% decline in hazelnut production in 2018 (from 21.4 to 16.3 thousand tons) compared to 2017. In the first quarter of 2019, nut exports plunged to $13.6 million compared to $23.2 million over the same period in 2018.

Now, Georgian farmers in the western regions of Ajara, Guria, Samegrelo, and Imereti are anticipating a strong hazelnut harvest for 2019. This year, says Executive Director of the Georgian Hazelnut Growers Association, Giorgi Todua, more than 40,000 tons of hazelnuts are expected to be harvested, compared to 2018’s 17,000 tons. The hazelnuts will be harvested throughout the month of August. Demand for Georgian hazelnuts is high, particularly in Europe.

The Georgia Hazelnut Improvement Project is a five-year project (2015-2020) funded and implemented by the Global Development Alliance (GDA) (USAID, Ferrero, and CNFA) to increase the sustainable capacity and private sector development of the hazelnut industry in Georgia. The project has made a strong contribution to the restoration of the industry.

Todua gave advice to farmers this week, saying “little time is left before harvesting, and it is especially important to continue the fight against the stink bug and against fungal diseases. I would give three recommendations to farmers: spray the hazelnuts once more before the harvest starts; timely collect the harvest; and dry the hazelnuts properly.”

The Georgia Hazelnut Improvement Project explains that hazelnuts are Georgia’s largest agricultural export by value and support the livelihoods of more than 50,000 growers and processors. “Due to inconsistent quality and lack of market distinction, Georgian hazelnuts often sell at lower prices,” they warn. The project aims to “transform and streamline the hazelnut value chain to improve the quality of Georgian hazelnuts.”

By Samantha Guthrie

Image source: Georgian Hazelnut Improvement Project

22 July 2019 17:59