Photo: Irakli Dzneladze/UNDP

The European Union (EU) and UNDP are providing robust support to regions in Georgia focused on fostering sustainable economic growth, expanding economic opportunities and increasing employment. In the Ajara Autonomous Republic (Ajara AR), the EU and UNDP are working with local governments, businesses and rural communities to boost rural economies, promote green solutions and introduce innovative approaches to economic development.   

On 22 and 23 July, representatives from the EU, UNDP and the Rural Development Agency visited the Ajara AR to assess the progress of rural development projects funded under the GEL 9 million grant programme the EU and UNDP initiated in May 2020.

Tailored to the needs of entrepreneurs with small- and medium-sized businesses, this flexible funding mechanism nurtures rural development opportunities beyond agriculture and promotes non-farm livelihoods in Georgian villages. Since its inception, the grant programme has supported 32 rural entrepreneurs (eight in the Ajara AR).

“Diversification of rural opportunities is important for economic growth of rural areas in Georgia,” said Ketevan Khutsishvili, Programme Manager for Rural Development, Civil Emergencies and Crisis Management for the EU Delegation to Georgia. “The EU is assisting Georgia’s efforts to implement a sweeping package of reforms to build the villages of the future, where people can enjoy diverse learning, employment and business opportunities.”

“More than 40 percent of Georgia’s workforce is engaged in agriculture, which contributes less than 8 percent to the country’s gross domestic product. By adopting new rural development policies, the government has introduced an alternative development path focused on diversifying rural economies and promoting sustainable business models,” said UNDP Acting Head Anna Chernyshova. “As the region emerges from the pandemic crisis, the Ajara Autonomous Republic has huge potential to explore this approach and ‘build forward better’.”

“It’s one of our priorities to support non-farming activities in the rural regions,” said Deputy Head of the Rural Development Agency Giorgi Jibladze. “The Rural Development Grant Programme is being implemented with funding from the EU in partnership with UNDP.  Over GEL 5 million support has been already provided to the entrepreneurs in target municipalities with co-funding totalling GEL 3 million.”

During the field visit, Khutsishvili, Chernyshova and Jibladze visited a textile factory in Khulo and a production line in Keda. The Khulo factory manufactures hotel uniforms for the hospitality sector; the Keda production line takes in recycled plastic waste to make crates for agricultural products. With EU and UNDP support, both enterprises have expanded and modernised their production and employed more residents of the local villages.

The visit continued to the Black Sea College in the Keda municipality, where the EU and UNDP, in partnership with the Ajara AR Government and the Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia, are supporting educational programmes in various non-agriculture professions (including hospitality and guest-house management, electrical wiring, welding and water supply systems). The representatives met with college management, teachers and students and attended an awards ceremony of teachers retrained in information technologies, sectoral subjects and teaching methods.

The EU and UNDP assistance to Ajara AR draws on the EUR 179.5 million EU-funded European Neighbourhood Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development (ENPARD), which has been supporting rural development in Georgia since 2013. ENPARD provides economic opportunities in rural areas, aiming to reduce poverty in Georgia. More information on ENPARD is available at www.enpard.ge

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