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New CARE project hopes to develop Georgia-Armenia border regions

By Etuna Tsotniashvili
Thursday, April 19
Yesterday, CARE International in the Caucasus hosted a conference titled “Joining Regional Actors for Local Economic Development”, organized within the framework of the project “Local Actors Join for Inclusive Economic Development and Governance in the South Caucasus (JOIN)”.

The conference brought together participants from Georgia, Armenia, and representatives of donor and international organizations for a discussion on inclusive economic development, agricultural strategies of Georgia and Armenia and their impact on local development, and perspectives for attracting investors to rural areas

“Today’s event is really about three things: in the first instance, we really want to put the target regions, which are the regions that border the Georgian-Armenian border, on the map in terms of areas that have economic potential and opportunities for growth. We have invited a lot of people from the regions who can represent and who can tell about what that potential is. Secondly, we also want to use this opportunity in order to map the opportunities that exist though international investments, though donor projects, or though national programs that are focusing on regional development of the regions.... Finally, we want to hear the opinions of all of these stakeholders, how they think we should be running the project in order to facilitate the process of economic development in the target regions," Anthony Foreman, JOIN Project Director of CARE, told The Messenger.

The JOIN project will help communities in the regions to identify for themselves those areas which have potential and to give them the skills to package it in order to attract investment.

Conference participants exchanged information on local planning and agricultural development in the border regions of Georgia and Armenia, between central and local governments, the private sector, the donor community, international organizations, and stakeholders from foreign countries, and intend to facilitate these parties to formulate a strategy on working together.

An important part of the conference was discussing how to make local development inclusive. Paul Clark, President of TBSC Consulting, presented a baseline study conducted in the project target regions. TBSC Consulting interviewed key local actors in 13 municipalities in Armenia and Georgia including local governments (LG), civil society organizations (CSO), and the private sector (PS). The results show that the planning process in municipalities is not very effective, as they fail to meet requirements and mostly reflect the views of municipal officials. Private sector and civil society organizations as well as ordinary citizens have problems understanding the role of LG in their everyday life. Timely information and effective communication between LG and local actors is also an acute issue. According to the survey, most farmers in municipalities do not have relevant and timely information they need to compete in the emerging economy, and even if the relevant information is available, many residents do not know how to access it.

Notably, gender equality is not respected in some areas and gender discrimination is very common. Another issue is that of language, as there is often a language barrier between and within communities along the border. The language barrier acts as an obstacle to integration in Georgian society for ethnic and linguistic minorities, although the Georgian government has worked on the issue and created some effective tools to integrate Armenians and Azeris into Georgian society.

JOIN is a three-year project designed to create an "enabling" environment for socioeconomic development through participatory planning, improved cooperation, and the exchange of market-relevant information among local governments, civil society organizations, and the private sector.

JOIN is funded by the Austrian Development Cooperation (ADC) and implemented by CARE Austria and CARE International in the Caucasus together with the partner organizations the Civil Development Agency (CiDA) in Georgia and the Center for Agribusiness and Rural Development (CARD) in Armenia.

As Alexander Bohr, South Caucasus Representative of ADC, remarked at the conference, ADC has established an office in Tbilisi responsible for Georgia and Armenia as part of a re-orientation process within the region. The organization will bring a more strategic focus to both countries and this will be followed up by the establishment of bilateral country strategies. This new JOIN project is part of this new focus, supporting Kvemo Kartli and Samtskhe-Javakheti in Georgia and Lori, Tavush and Shirak in Armenia.

Alongside the conference, an agricultural exhibition was held, in which products from the border regions were presented for participants to test, in the hopes of demonstrating the regions’ investment and development potential and competitive advantage.