The Local Action Group Upper Svaneti (LAG), established in the framework of the EU-funded ENPARD III Mestia project, continues its support to the socio-economic development initiatives in the Mestia municipality. Within the first EU-funded grant competition in March 2020, LAG Upper Svaneti selected 50 winning initiatives out of 223 project ideas. These initiatives come from all 17 communities of Mestia municipality and cover the areas of infrastructure rehabilitation, business development, as well as non-commercial activities for social support and community development. The initiatives respond to local community needs and contribute to rural development goals in Mestia.
The work of the LAG Upper Svaneti and the results of some of the EU-funded beneficiaries were observed during the recent field visit to Mestia by Mr. Georges Dehoux, Programme Manager for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Safety at the EU Delegation to Georgia. During the 2-day programme, Mr. Georges Dehoux visited on-going and completed business and commercial projects in several communities, including frozen semi-finished food products’ Processing Enterprise “Family Kitchen” in Ipari community, Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFP) processing enterprise, which will produce natural medical herbs and teas, carpentry workshop and trout farm in Mulakhi community. Mr. Georges Dehoux also met with an agricultural mechanization service provider in Tsvirmi equipped with the project and observed the construction process of a dairy farm in the Latali community. The visitors also stopped at the dental clinic in Mestia town, which received medical equipment under the project.
The visit also included the social non-commercial initiatives funded under the ENPARD programme. Among them was the rehabilitation center for the persons with special needs in Mestia town run by the NGO “Together for the Real Changes”, Women Social Enterprise “LATLIISHD” in Latali community that organized sewing workshop for local women and engages in production and promotion of traditional Svanetian products. The members of the enterprise demonstrated production process of such unique products as Svanetian soap, Svanetian salt and felt at place.
Mr. Dehoux also visited community infrastructure projects jointly funded by the project and the Mestia municipality, such as a newly built sports field in Lenjeri community and rehabilitated drinking water supply system in village Tsvirmi.
“As part of its LEADER approach, the EU supports and encourages local initiatives, and inclusive commercial and social initiatives, as these are important in responding and addressing the local socio-economic development needs and priorities. I’m impressed by the variety of projects in Mestia municipality. All have great potential to improve livelihoods and economic conditions of the local population, increase local employment and engage local women and youth in socio-economic life. In its short existence, the Upper Svaneti Local Action Group (LAG) has already demonstrated its essential role in supporting socio-economic development of the Mestia municipality. Its contribution to the COVID-19 response has been particularly outstanding and, in that respect, I want to highlight the proactive actions of the youth group; it is clear that Mestia youth have found a real sense of purpose through the LAG. I also want to emphasise the collaborative and positive relationship between the LAG and the municipal authorities, which has led to several co-funded projects to be implemented. This demonstrates the added value of the LEADER approach to local governance. I now look forward to my next visit next year to witness the evolution of the LAG’s work and its impact on the municipality’s socioeconomic development” stated Mr. Georges Dehoux.
The visit was a good opportunity for the EU-supported grantees to present their projects to the EU representative and share their future plans and vision. Project participants discussed their needs, as well as opportunities and challenges of rural development in Mestia municipality.
Established in 2019 with EU support, LAG Upper Svaneti actively supports rural development projects in the municipality of Mestia. The LAG members have increased their capacities to monitor and evaluate the projects, engaged in field monitoring and selection process of the grantees. The LAG’s youth group continues promotion of the projects and introducing the project results to the wider audience. Upper Svaneti LAG members also increase their capacities to provide educational activities and provision of information on important and useful topics to Upper Svaneti communities, through different training and workshops. Under training for trainers program, LAG members developed training modules and provided training on agro-tourism, career and professional orientation, social media campaigning and fundraising and other topics. In addition, LAG Upper Svaneti will be actively involved in the planned process of territorial branding of Upper Svaneti, as well as other mountainous areas in Georgia. The first steps has already been made through the CARE Austria-initiated discussion on territorial branding of mountainous areas, which will be realized through work of LAG in Mestia municipality and increased networking with other LAGs, supported by CARE Austria, PMC-RC and other international and national partners.
The project, “Implementing LEADER in Mestia municipality for better livelihoods in high mountainous regions of Georgia”, under the EU-funded ENPARD program, and co-funded by Austrian Development Cooperation, is run in the municipality of Mestia by CARE Austria in partnership with PMC-Research Center. Based on the European LEADER approach, the project aims to improve diversification and competitiveness of the rural economy, supports the involvement of vulnerable groups, especially women and the youth, and the sustainable management of natural resources.