Antonovka and Tsarsky Apples vs. Granny Smith
“As a rule, supermarkets demand fresh, quality apple cultivars. Quality requires thorough protection with pesticides, which are expensive, and so are fertilizers.”
“At best only five percent of apples harvested in old orchards have export potential. Requirements have changed: Apples in the same crate must be similar in size, and they should not be infected. There is no chance of gathering more than 1,000 tons of apples meeting these criteria.”
According to preliminary statistics for 2014, apple import has dropped by 800,000 USD year-on-year. Nonetheless, local farmers are still having a hard time selling their products. Apples in Georgia are grown mainly in Shida (Inner) Kartli and sold on the local market. The remainder is sold to fruit juice plants for 0.08 GEL per kilo. Our interviewees claim not to have access to large retailers and supermarkets.
Gela Elikashvili owns a 2.5 ha apple orchard in the village of Kere, Gori District, and harvests up to 100,000 tons annually. He delivers apples from Gori to Kutaisi and sells them in the local farmers’ market. “Supermarkets and large retailers have their own distribution chains. They do not deal directly with farmers. They commission resellers to deliver particular types of apples and in specific quantities, which is why the end price is so high.”
“For the most part, I sell apples in the Gori farmers’ market, and sales are poor. Large retailers take small quantities at very low prices and never pay in advance. Ergneti used to be our main market, but now it is closed” saysMalkhaz Aniashvili from the village of Kardi.
“I took apples to Tbilisi to sell in the Navtlughi farmers’ market, but it proved even harder to sell there. I don’t think my apples were any worse than those sold in supermarkets for 5-6 GEL a kilo, yet they would not pay even 1 GEL for my product” saysorchard keeper Koba Bzishvili.
www.eugeorgia.info attempted to trace the route Georgian apples take from orchards to points of sale. We contacted several large supermarket chains and inquired into their distribution networks and suppliers of Georgian apples.
The Goodwill chain of supermarkets announces tender competitions every day. Whoever offers the best quality and price becomes the supplier of fruits and vegetables, including both imported and local apples, the following day. According to the company’s procurement reps, imported apples dominate the supply chain, thanks to their wide variety.
“We have four or five Georgian types and the same number of quality imported cultivars. At this point, Georgian apples are almost totally absent from our stores. For the most part, they are stored in refrigerators, though many customers still opt for local products. According to the latest statistics, imported apples make up 60 percent of total sales. There are, however, some periods when Georgian products prevail. We are doing our best to support local suppliers,” said Goodwill procurement representative Giorgi Taniashvili.
Experts in this field believe that farmers are often unaware of the rules for storing goods in refrigerated warehouses, which is why their fruit is not preserved properly.
The SPAR chain of supermarkets also selects suppliers by quality and price: “Whoever offers the best quality and price becomes our supplier. We give priority to Georgian products whenever they are available. Otherwise, we are forced to use imported goods. Georgian apples sell better in summer, when they are fresh. At other times, foreign products sell better. At this point, we have apples imported mainly from Greece and France,” saysGiorgi Gotsiridze, Head of the SPAR Commercial Department.
Poor quality is one of the reasons why retailers and consumers turn down traditional Georgian apple cultivars. Farmers themselves admit this and, in conversations with www.eugeorgia.info, many of them list reasons why they are having a hard time producing quality goods. “As a rule, supermarkets demand fresh, quality apple cultivars. Quality requires thorough protection with pesticides, which are expensive, and so are fertilizers, the cheapest costing 46 GEL per bag. We need 12-14 bags. People cannot produce quality apples, so half of the orchards in the villages have been cut down,” Lea Gelashvili says.
“European pesticides designed for new, dwarf cultivars are being imported today. Our traditional trees are large and require a lot of chemicals. Dwarf trees take 100 grams, while traditional trees require twice as much, which is why the latter produce low quality fruit. USD exchange rates have plummeted, and so have the prices. I need about 3.5 tons of pesticides, which cost 700-800 GEL” saysGela Elikashvili.
In an interview with www.eugeorgia.info, the Director of Complex Agro LLC sapling farm claims that promoting locally produced apples requires the replacement of orchards using old Communist-era technology with new cultivars. According to Giorgi Chonashvili, market requirements have changed, and old cultivars (and in small quantities at that) have a future only in the Russian market.
“Do you think apples introduced 100 years ago will be in demand today? Banana, for example, is a Canadian cultivar, which originated in 1862 and was subsequently imported to Georgia 100 years ago. The same holds true of Antonovka and Tsarsky, also imported cultivars. The Georgian Kekhura variety is a wild apple and is not special in any way. The propagated Iveria type is not good either, because it rots inside very fast, while still appearing edible on the outside. The only promising exception is Georgian Sinapi, the rest must be replaced. In other countries, orchards last 40 years, yet they are replenished every 20 years, because cultivars become outdated fast. In Georgia, however, nothing has changed in the past 100 years. At best only five percent of apples harvested in old orchards have export potential. Requirements have changed: Apples in the same crate must be similar in size, and they should not be infected. Yet, there is no chance of gathering more than 1,000 tons of apples meeting these criteria.”
Along with food safety, the European Union enforces strict control over the appearance of products. Each cultivar must meet certain standards of size in centimeters or kilograms. The minimal requirement is that a given product should look healthy, without damage, including that inflicted by pests. Apples must be hardy enough to withstand transportation and reach the destination in acceptable shape. Ripeness is also tested thoroughly, for which morphological aspect, taste, and firmness may be considered. Only a few farmers know that apples must meet these high standards in order to enter European markets.
“You cannot sell Georgian apples in Europe at this point. Farmers do not have refrigerated warehouses, and they are also unaware of the standards they must meet. Our apples today cannot cross the border. Replenishing orchards is the only solution. Also, affordable credits must be issued to farmers to operate. Otherwise, there are no prospects for farmers. Villages are becoming depopulated,” farmer Gela Elikashvili claims.
The Project Management Agency at the Ministry of Agriculture is already working on a new project to assist farmers in arranging refrigerated storage facilities. The agency has not discussed details of the project, but its senior manager claims that it should be launched this year. In the meantime, the Ministry of Agriculture will help farmers arrange modern intensive orchards as part of the Plant the Future project announced this February. So far, most of the applications involve apple orchards. Due to the high demand, the ministry lowered the 5 ha requirement, so now even those own one hectare of land can apply no later than May 30. Still, another problem emerged, this time in relation to land registration. One of the requirements of the project states that applicants must have their lots registered with the Public Registry.
“It is an excellent program, but not everyone has his/her land registered with the Public Registry, as required by the project. I own two hectares, but I never registered the land. My lots are scattered in five different areas, and it will cost me almost 1,200 GEL to register. I would love to apply if I had the lots registered to my name. 10-15 percent of farmers do not have registered lands” says Malkhaz Aniashvili says.
Deputy Minister of Agriculture Gocha Tsopurishvili told www.eugeorgia.info that the state must first ensure the rejuvenation of old cultivars and the replacement of imported goods with local production, which is the goal of the new project. However, the National Statistics Office has yet to calculate the demand on apples in the local market and the shares Georgian and imported apples hold in local trade chains. The Ministry of Agriculture, on the other hand, claims that it relies on data provided mainly by the Statistics Office.