I love a sweet, juicy mandarin and I’m lucky to live in a country where these near-perfect citrus fruits are grown. Farmers here in Georgia grow some of the best mandarins in the world. But getting these delicious fruits to market and eventually into the mouths of other mandarin-lovers can be a challenge.
Revaz Kokobinadze is a mandarin grower from the Adjara region in western Georgia. On his own, he only has cash on hand to purchase 60 percent of the materials he needs to grow mandarins on his quarter-hectare orchard. But now that he is part of a farmers’ group established through USAID’s Economic Prosperity Initiative, he and farmers like him are able to obtain interest-free loans to get what they need for successful mandarin production.
USAID has helped establish 50 farmer groups for Georgia’s two leading agricultural exports — mandarins and hazelnuts. Farmers were reluctant to come together at first, but they soon realized the commercial incentives of working together. As the saying goes, sometimes it takes a village. Now, these farmers make decisions together on everything from production and management practices, to the types of treatments to use.
To help these farmer groups succeed, in June 2013 USAID’s Economic Prosperity Initiative developed an interest-free financing scheme, which allows smallholder farmers to buy the agricultural materials they need and conduct soil testing. When farmers join together to make purchases, they can buy in greater volume and get a better price.
USAID then linked the farmer groups to a microfinance organization to provide credit for agricultural materials and laboratory services. The arrangement allows farmers to purchase what they need at rates they could otherwise not afford. The microfinance organization pays the suppliers and the farmers pay back the interest-free loans after the harvest.
More than 1,000 mandarin and hazelnut growers will benefit from these interest-free loans.
Belonging to a farmer group not only enables farmers to afford necessary materials, but also empowers them to improve management practices through consultations with extension specialists as part of USAID’s Economic Prosperity Initiative.
These same groups will see additional benefits of farmer groups during harvests later this year. USAID is helping to establish partnerships with hazelnut processors and mandarin packaging houses. Farmers now have what they need to produce better quality products on a larger scale, and they are more likely to receive a better price for their products.
Because of the loan he received, Revaz anticipates a greater harvest of high-quality fruit this year. “It was a simple procedure,” Revaz says. “A representative of the microfinance organization came to my plot and interviewed me about my farm’s production.” Once he submitted his application, the approval took less than 20 minutes.
By working together, Georgia’s farmers are finding it easier to get their delicious produce to market, and that’s good news for mandarin consumers like me in Georgia and the entire region.
Learn more about the Economic Prosperity Initative.