”Is there another country so wonderful and fertile ...yielding so many man-grown crops: rice, wheat, barley, oats, maize, Italian millet, millet, chickpea, beans, lentil, broad beans, cowpea, hemp, flax, and others”
Vakhushti Bagrationi “Description of the Kingdom of Georgia” (1745)
Importance of Georgia’s Agricultural Biodiversity
Georgia is a traditional agrarian country. Archaeological findings prove that agriculture was practiced in Georgia since the 6th-5th millennium BC. Researchers believe that the first domestication of plants and animals and, correspondingly, origin of agriculture took place within the area of Asia Minor – the so called Fertile Crescent zone (Western Asian Centre of Cultivated Plants), approximately 9-10 thousand years ago. The area directly borders Georgia, partially representing at the same time the area of distribution of the Kartvelian (Georgian) tribes in the prehistoric age. The great morphologic and genetic diversity of the oldest crops and their wild relatives, as well as some ancient species of domesticated animals that has been preserved up to now makes possible to think that Georgia itself is one of the centers of origin of some of the important cultivated plants (e.g., vine and wheat) and domestic animals. At the same time, the geographic position of Georgia conditioned that the territory was used as a trade corridor connecting Europe and Asia, for which reason Georgia for ages was a recipient of new genetic material, while the country’s climatic conditions and soils created a good precondition for adapting these new crops. Thus many landraces have been developed from numerous introduced crops.
Agricultural biodiversity encompasses not only the species and varietal diversity, but also agro-ecosystems, rural landscapes, microorganisms and fungi, as well as traditional knowledge used in food production. In this respect, Georgia is also particularly rich.
Thus, local landraces and micro flora of traditional products constitute a significant part of the world’s cultural heritage and have a great economic and scientific value for Georgia:
- Traditional quality food production is based on local genetic resources, which is so important for the development of both agriculture and tourism;
- Local varieties are well adapted to local conditions and are noted for resistance to unfavorable weather and pests and diseases, for which reason they represent valuable breeding material for scientists and are important for ensuring the country’s long-term food security.
The specialization policy characterized for planned economy and shift to the industrial agriculture in the Soviet period, contributed to the significant degradation of the agricultural ecosystems as well as reduction of the local plant and animal genetic recourses important for food and agriculture. This process was even strengthened in 1990’s, when state collections and breeding stations failed into ruin and negative impacts on agricultural ecosystems increased because of the collapse of the system and spontaneous and chaotic developments in the farming sector.
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Association Elkana works on the issues of the conservation of agricultural biodiversity since 1996.
Elkana experts were involved in the elaboration of the agricultural biodiversity part of the first and second National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plans of Georgia in 2003-2005 and 2011-2013.
In 2004-2009 Elkana carried out the Project - Conservation and Sustainable Use of Georgia’s Agricultural Biodiversity - financed GEF/UNDP; the Project aimed at reintroduction of the landraces on farms and their conservation including recovery of their seed material, distribution of them among farmers and establishment of marketing chins for the products produced from landraces though branding and promotion. In the frame of this project 6 landraces of different species of grain crops (Triticum carthlicum Nevsky, Triticum aestivum L., Hordeum vulgare var. nudum, Secale cereale (L.) M. Bieb, Panicum miliaceum L. and Setaria italica (L.) Beaur), 5 landraces of different species of legumes (Cicer arietinum L., Vicia faba L., Lens culinaris Medic., Vigna unguiculata L.Walp. and Lathyrus sativus L.) as well as one technical crop (Linum usitatissimum L.) were reintroduced in Samtskhe-Javakheti region. On the demonstration plot in Tsinisi (Akhaltsikhe municipality) of the Project local varieties of grapevine and fruits were collected and multiplied with the purpose of distribution of them among farmers. For legume crops marketing chains were developed. In 2009-2010 in the frame of the project financed by BP and its partner organizations BTC and SCP and administered by Eurasia Foundation (implementing body Association Elkana) production potential and market chain for of the local landrace wheat – Akhaltsikhis (Meskhuri) Tsiteli Doli – was developed. Since autumn 2011, with the financial support of the MATRA - Social Transition Programme of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Georgia and Armenia, the Biological Farming Association “Elkana” has been implementing a small-scale project “The Conservation and Sustainable Use of Domestic Animals at Risk of Extinction in Georgia” (09/2011 - 03/2013). The said project provides on-farm conservation of local animal breeds under the in situ conservation technique; a demonstration farm has been set up in the village of Zemo Khodasheni (Kakheti region), where, for the purpose of reproduction and distribution among the interested farmers, the following local breed animals have been introduced: 1) Georgian mountain cow (Tushur-Khevsuruli); 2) Tushuri sheep; 3) Megruli goat; 4) Kakhuri pig; 5) five local hen population.
In recent years the in situ conservation activities carried out by Biological Farming Association Elkana were financed also by German NGOs: EED and Misereor and since 2013 by a German NGO - Bröt für die Welt.