“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 thatit 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.”
ll 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.”
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.