Georgia boasts a wealth of agrifood products that are unique to the country – from Saperavi wine to sulguni cheese.
Developing and promoting Geographic Indications (GIs) and other origin-based labels for such products can help the country preserve its rich food heritage, while also raising producers’ incomes and driving economic growth.
On 4 July, over 100 dairy sector stakeholders from across the country gathered in the capital, Tbilisi, to discuss the benefits, challenges and opportunities of GIs in Georgia.
The conference, organized by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), together with public authorities, was part of a broader EBRD/FAO project on developing GIs in Georgia’s dairy sector.
Participants included representatives from the Government, international organizations, producer associations and the private sector, including small-scale cheese producers.
Thanks to the Cheese Guild, with support from Slow Food International, the conference was also a chance to showcase typical cheeses.
Georgia’s Minister of Agriculture Levan Davitashvili, who opened the conference, said: “Within agricultural policies, the GI approach helps foster quality production by promoting local know-how and natural resources. It’s also a great opportunity for small-scale producers to add value to their products and link in to interesting markets.”
A guarantee of quality and tradition
Globally, GIs bring in roughly EUR 50 billion a year. Countries have built robust tourist industries around GIs, creating jobs and helping small-scale producers secure premium prices.
“A successful GI can protect the cultural heritage and distinct biodiversity of the area and, therefore, promote the sustainable development of rural economies,” said Mamuka Meskhi, Assistant FAO Representative in Georgia. “FAO and the EBRD have been supporting the development of GIs in various countries throughout the region, and Georgia is a good example of our successful collaboration on the ground”
GIs can also transform the agrifood sector, making it more efficient, sustainable and inclusive, and reassuring consumers that what they are buying is safe and of high quality.
“Product quality, safety and tractability are increasingly important for consumers of Georgian products, both locally and abroad.” commented Victoria Zinchuk, Head of Agribusiness Advisory of EBRD. “Promoting a regulatory environment for Geographic Indications can enable local Georgian producers to differentiate their products and win consumers’ trust. Ultimately, this leads to enhanced profitability and long term competitiveness of Georgian products.”
Greater controls and efficiency
Yet although several Georgian dairy products are already registered as GIs, they have not generated significant economic benefits. This is largely due to the absence of a reliable control system – essential for protecting products from imitations – as well as little awareness of quality labels among producers and consumers.
“Many famous quality food products in Georgia suffer from misuse of their names in both the domestic and export markets,” said Nikoloz Gogilidze, Chairman of Sakpatenti, Georgia’s intellectual property office. “We want to protect these names to allow producers to maximize their value.”
The conference’s participants discussed the need to enforce existing GI legislation in the country and to strengthen the institutional framework for GIs, particularly in terms of certification and controls.
This, combined with a strong marketing campaign, can make the dairy value chain stronger by improving quality and safety standards, ensuring better linkages between small-scale milk producers and larger dairy processors and earning consumer trust.
Sante, the largest dairy processing company in Georgia, and a project partner, relies on fresh raw milk to produce its products.
“Our company was the first to request authorization to use the GI sulguni, because it’s an important cheese that appeals to both domestic and international consumers,” said Erekle Gamkrelidze, Director General of Sante “and because we want to support fair and inclusive value chains.”
Bruno Balvanera, EBRD Director for Caucasus, Moldova, and Belarus, added that this initiative is particularly relevant as it “promotes the development of more sustainable value chains in the dairy sector and provides synergy with another FAO/EBRD project aimed at increasing milk production in Georgia, which has benefited from excellent collaboration with dairy companies. Supporting the development of Georgia’s agribusiness sector is one of the key EBRD’s priorities in the country. ”
The FAO/EBRD team is working with Slow Food International and Origin-Georgia to develop an inventory of traditional Georgian agrifood products and their potential for GI registration.
In close collaboration with the Georgian biological farming association “Elkana”, FAO and the EBRD have started studying two pilot GI products – sulguni and Tusheti guda cheeses – and will work with producers to upgrade existing GI specifications in line with modern production techniques. Tenili cheese producers will also receive support.
The team will train and support producer organizations in marketing and certification, and promote best practices for the registration of new dairy products in Georgia.
Plans are also under way to develop an official GI logo for Georgian agrifood products, which will help these products stand out in a crowded market.
With support from Slow Food, pilot producers will travel to the Italian city of Bra in mid-September to see first-hand the benefits of GIs and attend “Cheese”, an international cheese festival that will mark its 20th anniversary this year.