Perspectives: European Journey of Georgian Honey
“Cooperative enables bee-keepers to produce honey of the same quality and standards in quantities that will satisfy sustainable and uninterrupted demand of other countries”
“If we want to be present on European market we should produce at least 100 ton of honey which will be only possible through joint effort of several cooperatives”.
“Georgian honey is distinguished with unique taste and in case of utilizing right technologies and standards we can create one of the best honey brands worldwide with Georgian honey. This is what the EU supports us in.”
“There is a wrong perception in Georgia – packed and labelled honey is not popular as it is regarded as a falsified one.”
“Ecological problems have put Georgian bee and its future under threat.“
We have visited father Petre’s farmhouse surroundings in Vani. Little Philipe was the first one who has met us in the yard. He is one of nine children of father Petre. Father Peter is a representative of the Georgian Orthodox Church and he holds the position of the dean at the Christian Orthodox Gymnasium. At the same time father Petre is actively involved in everyday work. He is a member of a cooperative of beekeepers “Ora et Labora” which is a Latin phrase meaning “Work and Pray” and the cooperative puts these words in practice. The cooperative of father Petre is one of the first honey producing cooperatives in Vani district which has received a funding through the financial support of the European Union’s ENPARD Programme. Technical and informational support of the cooperative is ensured by the ENPARD programmes’ implementer organization in the fregion “Mercy Corps”. Nowadays, “Ora et Labora” is the member of the biggest entity – the second level cooperative “TafliSachino” which has in possession its own honey processing unit. The second level cooperative unites 5 first level cooperatives consisting of 73 shareholders/members.
The total value of material resources which was provided though the European Union to the “Tafli Sachino” in a form of a co-financing amounts to more than 200,000 GEL.
“It has been 15 years now that I am involved in the field,” says father Petre. “During this time we never used to have more than 20-30 beehives as I used to produce honey as an individual bee-keeper and I stayed at the level of small-holder farmer. Accordingly, I was unable to produce the amount of honey which would have been enough to sustain my big family with the remuneration from the sales of the small scale production I used to produce. I got the information on the cooperatives 2 years ago from my co-villager and member of our church community MindiaKavtaradze. He had created a cooperative “Vashlara” and received small grant from the European Union by that time.”
Father Petre says that it was difficult to assure farmers holding a negative perceptions on Soviet type unified production practices to engage in mutually beneficial cooperation of European type and Mindia’s offer to engage in cooperation was not received with enthusiasm.
Representative of the young generation from Vani, Mindia Kavtaradze was one of the first in his district who has attended ENPARD’s information meetings on cooperatives and created a honey producing cooperative “Vashlara”. With a financial support of the European Union programme and technical support of the implementer organization Mercy Corps, the cooperative has received a co-financing through technical equipment amounting to the value of 35,100 GEL.
“Initially, when we learnt about it we did not know the benefits of the cooperative movement” –Mindia says. “I was getting acquainted with the information brochure for several days. I was skeptical in the beginning but as there was nothing to lose we followed advice from the European colleagues and created a cooperative “Vashlara”. Cooperative enables beekeepers to produce honey of same standards and quality in a quantities to ensure sustainable export condition from other countries.”
With the support of the European Union and Mercy Corps Mindia has participated in various trainings on cooperative management and producing of high quality honey. He has gathered the knowledge and decided to share it with others in order to increase volumes of honey production.
“It is true that we received technical equipment of 35,100 GEL but we realized that if we want to export honey to European market we have to produce at least 100 tons of honey and for this purpose uniting of several cooperatives is necessary. Apiculture is a field which requires cooperation and mutual assistance. First I approached father Petre and informed him about the possibilities of cooperative movement and ENPARD programme. He was skeptical initially but in the end I managed to reassure him and with 9 like-minded people he created a cooperative “Orta et Labora”.
After that we visited every single village in the area in Samtredia, Baghdati, Tskaltumbo and tried to assure small-holder farmers that it is necessary to create a cooperative. Our initial aim was to create several first level cooperatives and next envisioned output would be uniting in second level cooperative with all of them which would produce in high volumes.
Population was not much enthusiastic in response to the volunteering activism of father Petre and Mindia. Father Petre remembers that it was difficult to find people willing to become a cooperative members at the first phase:
“It was difficult to reassure people that it was necessary to engage in cooperation.
There are villages in Vani which do not receive electricity for months thus the access to the information and education is very low. Young generation tends to relocate to urban areas and elderly population are not open to change and novelty. In particular they do not have trust in grants and international organizations as they do not understand purpose of providing grants by the international organizations. But in real terms, it’s easy to understand. The European Union is interested in providing healthy and ecologically clean honey. Georgian honey has its unique taste and with the use of right technologies and following the standard we have a possibility to create Georgian brand of honey which will be one of the best world widely. The European Union is supporting us in reaching this aim.“
As a result of a heavy voluntary work for months and with the technical support of the EU’s partner organizations “Mercy Corps” and “People in Need” father Petre and Mindia managed to mobilize 5 cooperatives in Vani district and united them in the second level cooperative.
Currently, the second level cooperative “TafliSachino” has 72 members. The production dynamics has increased. If 2 years ago they used to produce 2 tons of honey, nowadays the figure has reached 16 tons with a perspective to increase the volume in future. With the financial support of the European Union, Mercy Corps and the Czech organization “People in Need” have provided the technical equipment of more than 200,000 GEL which is necessary for producing honey of European standard.
“Now we do have a honey processing unit of European level, which helps us not only in decreasing a workload but also in improving the quality,”- says father Petre. “For example, we used to need 2 days for processing 200 kg of honey with the use of outdated equipment when now we can process 4 tons of honey in a day. We produce more honey with less financial resources and human force. The quality of honey has been aligned with the European standards.”
All members of the cooperative “Tafli Sachino” have their own functions: some of them are responsible for looking after bees, some on logistics. At the same time there is a specific group which controls the quality of honey. In general, the quality of honey is one of the most difficult challenges for Georgian beekeepers.
According to Mindia Kavtaradze every single phase of honey production, starting from honeycomb production up to the mixing of honey is important for the final aim of producing a high quality honey:
“In the framework of the Association Agreement Georgia has a quota if exporting up to 1,500 tons of honey to the European Union market. This is quite a big amount but in order to make it a reality honey should meet a common standard on the market. That is why the cooperation among beekeepers is important to produce the same quality honey in line with the standard. At the same time the volume of honey should accede 100 tons in order to provide the production in an uninterrupted and sustainable way throughout the year.”
What demands should be met in order to produce honey in line with the European standards?
According to father Petre: “Unfortunately there are instances when honey is produced with the use of sugar. This is one of the well-known falsifications known to the consumer. But there are other methods of quality check, which are very important for consumer health. For example, the quality of the honeycomb is very important for producing a high quality honey. Bees use 1 kg of honey for making a honeycomb. This is connected with huge expense for honey producer. Thus the latter produce honeycomb themselves. In this process the quality of honeycomb should be taken into account. It is common to produce honeycomb with the use of paraffin which contains harmful substances for human health but this technique is much cheaper in comparison to producing a wax honeycomb. In the framework of the processing unit funded by the European Union we produce ecologically clean, wax honeycomb and the honey produced with it meets European standards. Individual honey producers have difficulty meeting this standard if they are not part of a larger production and do not have opportunity to share common knowledge and experience as well as financial costs associated with it. For cooperative this issue is not a huge burden unlike individual beekeepers who face additional costs with regard to the issue. Besides the ecologically clean honeycomb it is important to use high quality honeycomb frames, beehives and wires. When the wire is made of aluminum it can affect the quality of honey. Besides getting financial support from the EU for the second level cooperative the state has also assisted us. In the framework of the programme of the Agricultural Cooperatives Development Agency we were granted 1,000 bio beehives. Consumers also should be aware of the fact that when honey is stored in the aluminum tank the harmful substances of hard metals are transferred to honey. Even when the circle of honey production is in line with the norms, usage of aluminum equipment in the process of honey extraction damages its quality. According to the European standards the whole cycle of honey production should be safeguarded. This is not a difficult process if a beekeeper is not alone and cooperates with other beekeepers and the main focus is on development and quality. This needs knowledge and hard work. That is why the creation of a cooperative is necessary to ensure that individual beekeepers uphold same standards and produce safe honey for local consumers as well as European market.”
Mindia Kavtaradze,the head of the cooperative “Tafli Sachino”: „20 kg of honey can spoil 10 tons of honey production that is why we work continuously with the cooperative members in order to educate them on honey production directives. At the same time, we invite professionals to train cooperative members. It is extremely important for us to share the knowledge with others but sometimes we face difficulties. We have ambition to create first honey processing unit in Georgia which will produce honey of European standards. We aim to educate beekeepers who are potentially our cooperative members on how they should look after bees andwhich medications they need to give to them. With the financial support of the EU we already own the equipment that are necessary to produce a high quality honey. We offer the equipment for use to the cooperative members for free in order to ensure producing of honey of same standards which will be very beneficial for export as well as local consumers.”
According to father Petre honey consumers also need to be educated on the topic: “Honey should have a possibility to be traced down. It means that it should provide information where it was produced and by whom and by which standards. There is a wrong practice in Georgia – labelled honey is less trusted, as it is preserved as falsified one. Honey is purchased based on person to person trust but in real terms it is possible that honey produced by family one trusts on its own does not meet honey safety standards at all.
Midia Kavtaradze: “ The state and international organizations have done a lot for apiculture, now it is our time to work hard. If we will have high quality production and manage to increase the volumes of production we will find markets easily. For this purpose the unity of beekeepers and producing of honey of same standards is important. 2 tons of honey can be sold by a small shop in the village. Unification of 5 cooperatives is not enough, we should unite 20 of them in order to conclude the contract on providing 100 tons of honey in an uninterrupted way to European companies. Recently we learnt that The Ministry of Defense has purchased 45 tons of honey through state tender for the cost of 6.5 for 1kg.We are not competitive in the process of tender as we produce in a small volumes. In Europe average price for honey is 3 EUR. There is only honey produced in New Zealand that costs 35 EUR. It should be taken into consideration that New Zealand has been present on European market for very long and their brand is well-known there. We have to create a brand. Before that we have to aim at 3 EUR per kg which is 8 GEL. It should be noted that no one will sell honey for 8 EUR in Georgia due to the low production and high costs involved in the process. Here one family produces 15 kg of honey when in Europe 100 is produced with the same output. Thus, the cost of production in Europe is much cheaper. Nothing can be done without cooperation. Despite the fact that we have 2000 beehives and we are the biggest cooperative and own the best equipment, this is just 10% of the work that needs to be done. In order for Georgian honey to get established on global market, cooperation of beekeepers in our country is necessary as this will enable us to produce high quality production with same standards.”
There is one more important issue ‘TafliSachno” needs to solve. Ecological problems threaten Georgian bee and its future. There is a catastrophic situation with regard to chestnut forest in Imereti. Climate change, insects’ attacks and lack of attention from the state has devastated the condition of chestnut trees.It should be noted that chestnut flower is one of the most important source for bees.
According to Mindia Kavtaradze, in spring, when bees are in the process of breeding it is important that chestnut trees are flourishing. Otherwise, the
process of extinction of bees is unavoidable.
“We are ready to engage in voluntary work again and start the process of growing young chestnut trees which would be planted massively in the villages. If every household plants 2-3 young plants we will save our nature, bees and chestnut honey”.
Mindia and his like-minded friends need financial support to start the Eco movement and they rely on the help from the Ministry of environment and Natural Resources for this purpose.