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Study tour in Armenian border regions

By Mariam Betlemidze
Monday, May 3
Farmers and local government representatives from Kvemo Kartli and Samtskhe-Javakheti have travelled to Armenian regions aiming to strengthen cross-border cooperation and establish links and contacts with local Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and Local Governments (LGs) from Armenia.

Shirak and Lori in Marzes province in Armenia were visited on March 29-30 as part of the Poverty Reduction and Confidence-Building in Border Areas of Georgia and Armenia by Strengthening Civil Societies in Sustainable Rural Development (STAGE II) project study tour.

“The project provides opportunities to facilitate poverty reduction owing to its design. The activities planned within the project envisage the growth and reinforcement of NGO/civil organisations’ capabilities, which is automatically reflected in the economic condition of the relevant community population,” states Ketie Kheladze, STAGE II project manager.

According to the baseline survey carried out by ACT the share of unemployed people in border regions is higher in Georgia than in Armenia. In both countries the largest portion of employed people works mainly in the state sector. It is worth noting that the share of households with a high income in Armenia’s border region is 23% higher than in Georgia's border regions.

“Having started to work on cross-border cooperation we have once again realised that there is a need for joint work on the more precise identification of common problems of rural development that can best be solved cross-border, or at least require cross-border cooperation,” says Martin Tonoyan, Head of the Agriculture Department at the Shirak local authority. This idea is shared by many in the Georgian bordering regions.

During the study visit participants got acquainted with the work of three Armenian Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) – the Shirak Competitiveness Centre (SCC), the Yerevak NGO and Spitak Farmers Association (SFA). Thus they could observe best practices and learn lessons from their counterparts.

“It was interesting to see that local government here experiences similar problems. The need for development projects and programmes is high in both countries and we could build a win-win partnership in this regard,” said Nodar Sabiashvili, Bolnisi Council Chairman.

In Shirak the tour participants visited the Shirak Competitiveness Centre's milk collection centre project and met with the Jrarpi Farmer's Union and the HATM Project – an Armenian-American Housing Company. Thus participants got acquainted with local entrepreneurs and farmers’ methods of work.

In Lori Georgian CSOs and LG representatives attended a legal consultancy workshop organised by the SFA in the Spitak Cultural House and saw the Spitak Farmers Association’s Spitaki Handicrafts Centre, greenhouse, bio-humous production and goat and buffalo breeding centres.

“Having seen all these we may assume that in some respects our work may be more productive and they can learn from us, but in some spheres their experience and advice are essential for us. What we have seen here during the site visit may be a source of inspiration for organisations in developing proposals for micro projects to be submitted for a CARE/STAGE II grant or any other potential donor,” said Marine Bzhalava, President of Women and the World.

In the nearest future the participants of the study tour will also have a chance to deepen their knowledge of Improved Responses to Economic Development and Rural Livelihood Problems in Bordering Regions of Georgia and Armenia at a joint workshop to be organised on May 13-14, in Tbilisi.

“Such activities could be fruitful for both coun¬tries, as the bordering regions of Georgia and Ar-menia have substantial potential to form a rather at¬tractive investment zone. For this to happen we should continue our work on the harmonisation of fields of law, transportation and tax systems and in the good governance sphere which should create a common in¬vestment environment,” says Kote Khmaladze, economic expert and the Head of the Regional Economic Devel¬opment Department of the Ministry of Regional Development and Infrastruc¬ture of Georgia.

According to the evaluation of STAGE I participation of the local population in decision-making increased due to the project‘s activities: the village associations held meetings with the population to get acquainted with their problems. Within a year a third of the population has participated at least once in the problem resolution process. The increased membership of residents in local associations is considered one of the indicators of this growth.

The project is financed by the Austrian Development Cooperation and Cooperation with Eastern Europe (ADC) project and implemented by CARE Osterreich and CARE International in the Caucasus along with partner organisations the Civil Development Agency (CiDA) in Georgia and Centre for Agribusiness and Rural Development (CARD) in Armenia. The project started on May 1, 2009 and will last till October 31, 2011.