On December 18th 2014, the Biological Farming Association “Elkana” and Oxfam in Georgia organized a roundtable meeting to discuss the results of the Agriculture Private Sector Study, carried out within the frameworks of EU funded project “Improving regional Food Security through national strategies and small holders’ production in the South Caucasus”. The roundtable was attended by 6 representatives from the private sector (input suppliers, extension services and mechanization services), farmers’ associations, the Ministry of Agriculture, the National Food Agency, etc.
After the presentation of the study findings, Elkana provided the comparison of the results with the draft Agriculture Sector Strategy of the Ministry of Agriculture. It should be noted that the private sector representatives were more interested and active during the second part of the roundtable meeting and the discussions with the MoA representatives were quite intense, as most participants expressed their opinions and interests.
The private sector expressed their concerns with two main issues: a) the Government did not consult with the private sector while preparing the policy documents and b) the role of the state in a specific sector should not limit the space of the private sector.
The participants in the discussions openly declared that they are very keen and interested to engage in policy development processes together with the Ministry, even though this has never happened before. The attendees stated that their interests were ignored by the Government, even though they have the grassroots experience of the sector and can bring added value in the policy development process. One of the representatives noted that instead of ignoring the interests of the private sector, the Government should be supportive for addressing their needs, as the increase in local production will on the one hand affect the country’s economy and on the other hand the consumers, i.e. population at large, as they will be able to get locally produced healthier food: “[…] you ask if the product is locally produced when you go to the market, to know if it is healthy or not… thus we should support the private sector, if we want to increase the health level”.
The greater concern was raised in regards to the Government’s role in the agricultural sector. A number of initiatives mentioned in the draft MoA strategy were negatively assessed by the private sector representatives and regarded as the state’s competition in the sector, sometimes even a potential source of corruption. These concerns were raised especially on the plan for developing state-funded laboratories – as the representative from a private laboratory explained that the state owned laboratory will always have lower prices due to the subsidies from the state budget, and thus the customers will choose their services. The private sector expressed their concern that such centralized companies do not leave any space for small scale companies, and it would be more beneficial if the Government would instead, for example, make the accreditation stricter for laboratories so the overall quality would be raised.
The closing remarks of the roundtable discussion concluded that Elkana and Oxfam in Georgia will take forward the issues raised by the private sector to policy makers. Elkana plans to hold similar types of roundtable discussions in the coming months.