Biological Farming Association Elkana
The Biological Farming Association Elkana is a union of farmers aimed at improvement of the socio-economic conditions of the Georgian populuation and environmental protection through the fostering the development of sustainable organic farming and increasing self-reliance of the rural population.
The Association’s action philosophy/strategy includes:
- modern thinking in keeping with the national traditions;
- active drawing of the rural population in the country’s life and development;
- participation in training and practical activities;
- environmental ethics and professionalism.
At present the Association incorporates over 900 members, including farmer groups, associations, cooperatives, enterprises, etc.
Why organic farming?
Elkana views the future of Georgian agriculture, which traditionally employs more than half of the total labor force of the country, in the sphere of production of high quality bio-products, in as much as the bio-market is deemed to be the only continually developing market in the world, notwithstanding economic crises and contraction of other markets.
What is organic farming?
Organic farming is a system of agricultural production, which excludes the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, as well as genetically engineered/modified organisms (GMOs) and their products; it is law-governed and implies that the farm management and food production methods comply with the world-recognized standards. In addition, it should be mentioned that most scientists regard the term “Eco safe product” as inappropriate and, correspondingly, practically do not apply it for labeling a product as such.
Different countries define organic farming differently: e.g., in German-speaking and French-speaking counties, the term “biological” (biologische, biologique) is used. In some languages, e.g., in Spanish, the term “ecological” (ecologico) is preferred, while in English-speaking countries, the term “organic” is in use.
Georgia has chosen the German-French model and defined in law the terms: “organic product”/”organic production”. At the same time, according to international legislation, the placing by a person without a organic certificate on a label of an inscription (words and/or a combination of words, such as ‘eco’, ‘bio’, ‘organic’, etc.) liable to mislead the consumer or user by suggesting that the product is manufactured in compliance with organic production standards is treated as adulteration and is punishable by law.
The Biological Farming Association Elkana, a Georgian non-governmental organization, was founded in 1994. At that time, the Georgian village, being completely devoid of means of productions, had also an acute shortage of information and knowledge. No government or public institution capable of assisting farmers with qualified farming advice and modern technologies was functioning in the country. In order to assist Georgian farmers the Association Elkana was established, whose initial activities were limited to advisory services of farmers; at present the organization’s scope of activity has widened and includes:
- Advisory/extension service (agricultural consultations for farmers and persons engaged in farming);
- Promotion of rural economical development;
- Conservation of agricultural diversity;
- Development of rural tourism;
- Public relations (protection of farmers rights, training/workshops, publishing and promotional activities).
Initially, the organization was serving 9 member farmers. Gradually, the clientele has widened and now, according to the 2012 statistics, the Association numbers over 900 member farmers. Any Georgian citizen irrespective of sex, age, earning capacity, and ethnic origin and interested in the development of sustainable agriculture and environmental protection in Georgia is eligible to membership of the Association.
Since 1996 Elkana has been a member of the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM). In compliance with IFOAM standards and European Union regulations, the Association has developed and officially registered a organic production standard, which is binding on the Association member farmers. The standard is the principal working document for Elkana. The standard has been subsequently updated several times. The requirements of the updated standard are strictly observed by Elkana member farmers in the production of diverse and quality farm produce.
The placing of the member farmers’ products on the market with a respective status (‘organic’) required the establishment of a relevant legislative base and certification system. Thanks to active cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture of Georgia and other competent agencies, a Law of Georgia on Biological Agri-production entered into force in 2006. In the same period, by efforts of Elkana and with the support of Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) a biological certification body – Caucascert Ltd. (www.caucascert.ge) was established. In 2008 it was granted a certificate of accreditation by the Office of the German Accreditation System (DAP), and since the end of 2011 has been on the list of control bodies and authorities working under the system of import authorization issued by EU Member States; now biological certificates awarded by Caucascert are recognized on the EU markets. According to 2011 statistics, 0,06% (1042 ha) of agricultural land area in Georgia is certified as ‘organic’ (area under apples, pomegranate, persimmon, grapes, cereals, legumes, essential oil plants).
Since 2007 Elkana has been a holder of the quality assurance certificate ISO 9001/2000 as an advisory/extension department and training unit. The certification company (Social-Cert-GmbH, Munich, Germany) acknowledges that Elkana is running a regular quality improvement assurance system.
In parallel with promoting the development of organic farming, Elkana is also occupied with the problems of traditional agricultural diversity conservation and sustainable use. The organization started to work in this direction already in 1996. In 2004-2009, Elkana implemented the GEF/UNDP-funded project “Conservation and Sustainable Use of Georgia's Agrobiodiversity”, in the framework of which old Georgian cereal and leguminous crops have been recovered and are being cultivated and propagated on farms, including such ancient and endemic wheat varieties as Dika and Akhaltsikhe (Meskhetian) Tseiteli Doli. In 2011, by Elkana’s initiative and with the financial support of the MATRA Social Transition Programme of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Georgia and Armenia a small-scale project “The Conservation and Sustainable Use of Domestic Animals at Risk of Extinction in Georgia” was launched.
In the framework of the Rural Tourism Development Program, Elkana encourages the involvement of farmers in tourist activities in rural areas, for the purpose of ensuring additional income for them. The organization has been working on the program since 2006. In 2006-2012, Elkana implemented a SDC-funded project “Rural and Tourism Development in Georgia”. In the frames of the project, a network of family hotels/guesthouses has been created to incorporate 110 owners of family-run rural hotels/guesthouses and traditional product producers. At present, the network encompasses 8 regions of Georgia. In order to assure quality service of guesthouses Elkana has introduced a family-run rural hotel/guesthouse standard, which is based on the principal requirements of EuroGites - European Federation of Farm and Village Tourism.
Scope of Activities
· Consultations on the organic farming issues;
· Care for building up a organic product market in Georgia;
· Promotion of processing and marketing of organic products and of making it a profitable business;
· Promotion of raising competitive capacity of organic products;
· Testing, popularization and introduction of new organic preparations and technologies in organic farms;
· Conservation and sustainable use of local, traditional and endangered old Georgian crop varieties;
· Promotion of formation and activation/mobilization of a rural community;
· Promotion of rural tourism and production of local traditional products;
· Promoting organic farmers’ associations and cooperation;
· Raising public awareness on the importance of organic farming, traditional varieties and organic products;
· Protection of organic farmers’ rights.
Key Extension Service Directions
· Development of a plan of conversion to biological methods of farm management;
· Economic planning and optimization of farms;
· Consultancy and extension services in the sphere of organic farming;
· Consultations on business planning and marketing issues;
· Supplying seed and planting stock of traditional local varieties to farmers;
· Arranging training and workshops on the issues of organic agroproduction, extension services, business planning, community mobilization, rural tourism and biological safety.
The sources of Elkana’s financing are grants, financial support of international organizations and the association member contributions. Within the scope of its objectives, the association cooperates with ineterested individuals and organization both in Georgia and abroad.