President Saakashvili’s Agricultural Policies: State of the Nation Address, February 28 2012

From Civil.ge

“On agriculture he said that the government would provide irrigation systems to cover 18,000 hectares of land and 3,800 hectares will have the drainage systems rehabilitated. Saakashvili also said that twelve “centers of mechanization” would be established with 250 new tractors and 400 tractor extension aggregates to serve farmers. These centers, he said, would also serve as a consultancy providers to farmers.”

The initiative on irrigation and drainage rehabilitation is an excellent step. For a decade farmers have been agitating for this; access to irrigation on arable land can increase margins by 200-300% in Central and Eastern Georgia, and in western Georgia, proper drainage allows land currently used for very low intensity grazing to be developed for higher value crops, including lucrative orchard crops.

The area being renovated is still less than 10% of the area requiring remediation nationwide, but it is a step in the right direction. It is a capital-intensive process and takes time.

The roll-out of more state-owned mechanisation centres is a response to the very low adoption of modern cultivation, planting and harvesting techniques by small and medium sized farmers in Georgia. A common complaint to date has been that timeliness of service delivery is erratic (which is logical, given that every client in a district will want the same service in the same week). So increasing the number of tractors, implements and harvesters per 10,000 Ha may well help timeliness of service delivery, which is critical to good performance of the farm.

Something that needs to be examined carefully is state competition with private industry. In some districts, already there are one or two private farm service centres operating, with less than 100% utilisation during key periods, and yet the state is building new farm service centres in those districts. Private owners of farm service centres are rightly concerned about the full resources of the state squeezing them out of business.

The government should committ to full privatisation of such farm service centres within two years of establishment, to counter any claims of “empire building”.

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