Wheat production was one of the traditional activities in Georgia, and this country is recognized throughout the world as the birthplace of wheat. Five endemic species and more than 150 varieties of wheat are of Georgian origin. However, the production of local wheat in the country ceased in the 1950s, as Georgia was forced to supply three main products to the Soviet market – wine, tea and citrus fruits under the conditions of the Soviet planned economy; Wheat and other cereals were imported into the country from Russia and Ukraine. In regions where wheat was still produced on a small scale, during the industrialization period of the Soviet era, local wheat varieties were replaced by selectively bred industrial varieties that corresponded to the parameters of economic feasibility of that period and gave higher yields per hectare (an average of 6 t / ha). As a result, Georgian wheat remained only in scientific institutes and gene banks. In the 1990s, when funding for central science institutes stopped, local wheat varieties were threatened with extinction. Since 1996, the Biological Farming Association ELKANA has been implementing a project for the restoration and sustainable use of agricultural diversity. Within the frame of this project, field collections of the Department of Cultural Flora of the Institute of Botany (wheat, barley, flax, chickpea, horse bean, grass pea, Italian millet, etc.) were propagated and disseminated in farms (mainly in Samtskhe – Javakheti, Kakheti and Shida and Kvemo Kartli).
In the process of distribution, local wheat revealed the following main advantages and disadvantages:
|1. Increased resistance to unfavorable climatic conditions with low technological support and a guarantee of a stable harvest (2-2.5 t / ha), even when the harvest of industrial wheat varieties completely destructs due to climatic conditions;
2. High taste and nutritional properties of products made from Georgian wheat flour.
|1. Low maximum yield (4 t / ha) under favorable climatic and proper care conditions in comparison with industrial wheat varieties;
2. Lack of mechanized capability of harvesting some varieties of wheat.
In parallel with the distribution of seed material, the association periodically held bread festivals, tasting events and farmers’ days to raise awareness of farmers and the population about Georgian wheat.
In discussing this model, we must mention the preconditions behind which Georgian smallholder farmers decide to grow wheat:
- Abundance of non-irrigated land;
- The need for crop rotation in the production of vegetables;
- The small size of the plots, which often makes it unprofitable to grow wheat according to the classical technological cycle with the use of mechanization.
Among wheat producers Elkana farmer Anzor Maisuradze, who lives in the village of Nabakhtevi, Khashuri municipality, has expressed his interest in growing Georgian wheat. In the advantages of local wheat, he saw a good opportunity to find his place in the market, which was preceded by the following market situation:
- Dissatisfaction of the population with the quality of industrial bread existed on the market;
- Readiness of consumers to pay more for quality bread;
- Consumer demand for the so-called Ecological product.
To take advantage of these opportunities, at the first stage he had to establish a complete bread production chain, which included cultivation of various varieties of wheat, production of flour and baking of bread. After the formation and development of a niche market, he now sells only wheat and flour to small bakeries who offer the consumer exclusive products.
The economic benefits of growing local wheat varieties on small farms compared with industrial varieties can be seen using the following data:
|Local wheat||Industrial wheat|
|Minimal volume of harvest – 2 t/ha
Minimal price (grain) – 2 GEL/kg
|Maximal harvest volume in small farms without technological process – 1.7 t / ha
Maximal price (grain) – 0,75 GEL/kg
|Minimum income per hectare – 4000 GEL/ha||Maximal income per hectare – 1275 GEL/ha|
At the same cost, the economic benefit from climate-smart model reaches about 200%.