GRANTEE SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW: NINO ZAMBAKHIDZE, CHAIRWOMAN OF GEORGIAN FARMERS’ ASSOCIATION

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Since 2012 Nino Zambakhidze has been as Chairwoman of the Georgian Farmers’ Association. Since 2013 she has held the position of agricultural advisor at Partnership Fund. In 2005, She founded LTD LBN Line, which is the official representative of coffee VERGNANO and tea Ronnefeldt in Georgia. Since 2008 she has been an Executive Director of Agro Complex LTD “Georgian Business Zone.” In 2010, Nino founded “Regional Development Association.”

She was awarded a national business-prize “Merkury 2011” where she received an honorable title of “Woman Entrepreneur of the Year.” She was the first woman chosen as a coordinator of an organization called “Invest in Future,” which was created in 2012 under the patronage of Hilary Clinton. In 2016, Nino was named as Entrepreneur of the Year by Grenoble Graduate School of Business. In 2017, Nino was nominated as a Young Global Leader at World Economic Forum.

In 2016, Nino recived a Master’s degree in Business Administration from Grenoble Business School. She also holds an International Master’s degree from Caucasus University in the same field. Additionally she has a Certificate of Completion of Public Policy in Private Sector Development Course from Stanford University Leadership Academy for Development. In 2019, she took a leadership course at Oxford and SAID Business School. In addition, she holds a diploma in Business Administration and Management from Cambridge International College which she received in 2019.

In 2020, Nino became a member of the Board of Directors of Adjara Group, a leading business group in Georgia’s Ho.Re.Ca industry.

The Georgian Farmers’ Association (GFA) was founded in 2012 and currently unites about 4,000 farmers across Georgia. Despite all the difficulties you have faced, you have succeeded in overcoming these challenges. What was the main driving force behind your inspiration to create the GFA?

It all started with my dream of constructing a farm, which occurred to me when I first saw the poor conditions of a farm that was producing milk and cheese.

In the reality where cultural beliefs and practices presented the main problems for women’s access to education and finances, I managed to break the stereotype that a woman is born only for household work and raising children. This was difficult in an environment where sons are traditionally preferred. However, with hard work and motivation, I arrived at where I am today and I am proud of it.

I fulfilled my dream to turn a dairy farm into productive industry and have also expanded it, thus becoming one of the largest women entrepreneurs in Georgia.

When starting a farm as a single-mother of two boys in the region, mainly populated by ethnic minorities, I faced a lot of challenges I had to overcome. By constructing and managing a farm nobody believed a woman could handle, I became a role model and managed to change the attitude towards women in the surrounding communities. As a result, more and more women started engaging in farming activities.

But even as I achieved some success, I knew there was more to be done in my country, so I have started to give back to my community. I established the Georgian Farmers’ Association to support my country, particularly women farmers in rural areas by creating a one-stop-shop where farmers can obtain and share information, get access to markets and education and other respective services. GFA is always there to support and advocate for their rights and ensure that their voice is heard.

Capacity building and mentorship programs are often key to the success of new agribusinesses. Do you think that these programs are sufficiently promoted and available in the South Caucasus countries?

It is difficult for me to talk on behalf of the whole South Caucasus, but using Georgia as an example, I can say that Western intervention has positively transformed the agribusiness environment in my country, which also transformed my life and the lives of many farmers, including women, in rural areas. Increasing support is being provided to the agribusiness sector and TA component is included almost in all programs or projects, whether government-funded or donor-supported. Even though the dynamic is positive, given the Soviet legacy and stagnation of the sector for almost two decades, the skills deficit and lack of knowledge remains. Therefore, it will take some more time for the younger generation to fill in the gap and women to step in the field previously considered non-traditional for them.

The farming sector in Europe and Eurasia is dominated by an older population and this is certainly true when it comes to the current lack of youth and female farmers. How can we encourage young people, especially women, to get more involved in agriculture and agribusiness?

There were various legal, regulatory, and cultural barriers in place for women in Georgia preventing women from experiencing the rights, protections, and liberties as men. Supporting women in agribusinesses to get access to finance will undoubtedly contribute to their increased decision-making and the right to access and own property. The tradition of preferring sons left women without property and access to loans due to problems with collateral. Access to education is another challenge, which needs to be tackled.

Removing these barriers that prevent women from fully participating in the economy is critical not only for the empowerment of women but also for economic growth and development in general.

Creating opportunities in non-traditional fields where these opportunities did not exist before is crucial.

The agriculture sector is perceived to be led by men. However, it was identified that men and women are relatively equally involved, particularly in animal husbandry. Women are mainly responsible for production of milk and dairy products. Men take care of the farm, animal health and assist women in selling the product. At the same time, among veterinarians as well as other professions men are more represented than women. We at GFA do our best for women and men to be equally presented in any type of support provided and if everyone took the same approach to SDG 5 (achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls), it would be easier and quicker to accomplish.

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Georgian Farmers’ Association is one of the Grantees of the USAID Economic Development, Governance and Enterprise Growth Project (EDGE). The project aims to promote agritourism and improve regional partnerships and networking among South Caucasus countries. What activities do you plan to implement to achieve these goals?

Initially, we will identify and select agritourism enterprises on a competitive basis. The selected 60 SMEs (20 from each country) will have an opportunity to participate in training sessions which will place emphasis on the hospitality and tourism industry, digital marketing, online reservation, and social media as well as food safety aspects. These trainings will help the beneficiaries to gain crucial skills and improve their service. In addition, we have planned to develop a full marketing and branding portfolio (including taking photos, writing profiles and success stories, registering online platforms) for 30 selected agritourism enterprises.

Furthermore, 10 selected sites from Georgia will have an opportunity to be filmed with the “Agro Stop” promotion video, which portrays the whole trip of the travelers and describes their adventure. These activities will promote selected agritourism enterprises and help them reach a larger audience. Throughout the project, we will develop a special website for South Caucasus agritourism, and register hundreds of agritourism SMEs on it. The aim of the website is to promote agritourism in the South Caucasus countries. The website will be beneficial for the tourists as well as for the agritourism enterprises, as it will contain all information elaborated under the project, and will have the ability to book reservations online.

Finally, we will hold special events at the end of the project, which will host tourism value chain actors working (or would like to work) in the South Caucasus countries. These events will introduce the agritourism website, encourage direct linkages with agritourism sites, and promote South Caucasus agritourism in general.

As a result of the project activities, in the South Caucasus, dynamic agritourism enterprises will be strengthened through gaining new skills, knowledge, and practices. Once you have implemented all the activities, what is your ultimate goal, how will the enterprises benefit?

The primary objective of our planned activities is to support agritourism enterprises, strengthen their capacity and help them gain competitiveness. Custom-tailored training courses that are planned throughout the project will train the beneficiaries about current trends and standards of the industry. A full package of branding and marketing portfolios will help the enterprises to develop a strong brand and gain awareness in the marketplace. Portfolios will definitely be beneficial for the promotion and introduction of the enterprises to the larger audience.

The creation of the website and organizing special events will support the enterprises through strengthening linkages and sharing experiences between stakeholders. Consequently, the beneficiaries will have an opportunity to improve market integration and expand market linkages. Thus, the ultimate goal of our project is to strengthen and promote agritourism in the South Caucasus.

Although the tourism sector was threatened the most because of the novel COVID-19 pandemic, when this uncertain time will be gone and tourism will start again, according to the UN World Tourism Organization, the rural tourism and agritourism will be the first and one of the most demanded among travelers. Can we expect this to be the new emerging trend in the travel industry in the coming years?

Nowadays, the majority of visitors in the South Caucasus countries either stay only in big cities or make day trips to the regions. This is partly due to the lack of accessible information regarding agritourism enterprises and the necessary promotion. People are becoming more and more interested to explore rural areas, participate in agricultural activities, and explore how agro-food products are produced.

Agritourism enterprises can offer tourists a much bigger range of activities than a trip to a big city. On the one hand, travelers are excited to get out of big cities and experience a rural life, taste natural products, and enjoy being outside. On the other hand, agritourism is a very good opportunity for farmers to increase their income by hosting tourists, sell products directly to customers and enjoy interacting directly with travelers. We can definitely expect agritourism to be the new emerging trend in the South Caucasus travel industry. Thus, agritourism needs popularization and support to gain competitiveness in the tourism industry to meet the increased demand expected to come in the future.

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