The SDC has been involved in Georgia’s economic and sustainable development for more than a decade. As a result, many farmers and entrepreneurs received assistance directly, and many more indirectly. Who are the end beneficiaries of SDC’s agriculture projects? Here is the story of Aishi from Tsalka.
Tsalka is known among many Georgians as “Georgian Siberia” as winter is the longest season where a temperature can go as low as -400 C. During Soviet times the place was mostly populated by ethnic Greeks, now it is home to many eco-migrants from mountainous Ajara. Since 2005, after the death of her husband, the village of Gumbati in the Tsalka municipality has been a shelter and home for Aishi and her only son.
“I arrived in the village in 2005. I remember it was September. My husband passed away, I was left alone with my son. My brothers were living here and I preferred to live close to them. Initially, I thought I would stay for five years – I was going to save some money and move back to Batumi, but I got used to this place and decided to stay.”
Tsalka offered Aishi what no other place could – proximity to her family members, fertile soil and a processing plant to collect her milk. And, so, she stayed.
Aishi’s mornings start at 7 a.m.: she has to milk cows as early as possible, then to deliver milk at a local cheese processing plant “Tsalka+”, and to return back home to take care of her cattle and a back yard where she grows fruits and vegetables. She performs many tasks with precision and much joy. There is a reason why. Although agriculture demands much effort and time, it is the only stable source of income for her small family. In addition to that, agriculture is a complimentary means to socialize and, therefore, get integrated into the local society. In Tsalka everyone is involved in agriculture. As a city dweller in the past, she has to work harder to prove that she can be a successful farmer as well.
“Tsalka+” is a SDC-supported local cheese processing plant that collects milk from locals, including Aishi, and thus very vital for their livelihood. It was established by Valeri Kakhadze’s father, an eco-migrant from the upper Ajara, in 2004 and has since been successfully operating and increasing its scale.
“Our productivity has increased to the extent that we were able to encompass two more villages. Our plant can process simultaneously more than 20 tons of milk in two shifts and store it as required. We even increased a price by 10 tetri in order to attract more milk producer farmers. There are villages in our municipality where locals have hard times selling raw milk, not to mention selling cheese at a local market,” says Valeri Kakhadze.
Aishi explained to us why selling cheese at a local market is not a profitable endeavor. As a perishable good, cheese needs to be sold quickly and stored in a fridge in due time. By the end of a day, vendors have to reduce a price to sell out their stock of cheese, otherwise it will be a waste for a producer. Given the resources cheese production requires including transportation to a market, selling cheese is not a profitable business.
“It is easier for me to sell raw milk to the plant than to run a milk processing plant on my own, and easier than selling milk at a local market. If we need cheese, we make it at home in small amounts. First and foremost it is a stable income for families like mine where a pre-payment is also possible,” says Aishi.
Stable income ensured by the cheese plant helped Aishi complete renovation of her house and purchase, although by installments, a washing machine and kitchenware.
Does she have time for coffee? Not really. She is working part time at a local shop. That’s the place where she relaxes a bit, socializes with locals and chats with her friends.
Does she miss a city life? Not really.
In addition to her cows, she takes care of two calves who will grow into milking cows in two-three years. It is worth a wait, because more milk means more income for Aishi, and with the local cheese processing plant ready to collect more milk she can plan the future.