The story was originally published on Publika.ge
Sheep breeding is a traditional field of agriculture in Georgia. Species of sheep are also local that have been herded for centuries. Sheep are especially noticable in eastern Georgia. Whitish flock is spread over the open fields with shepherds, horses and dogs roaming around the sheep.
But can the sheep breeding turn into a successful business sector? How did sheep breeding withstand the pandemic, what is the prospect of having sheep in Georgia, is it an emerging business or has it remained a tradition doomed to extinction?
“I can’t tell you what will or will not happen this year, but I had a lot of problems last year,” Teimuraz told to ‘’Publika’’. Teimuraz Javakhishvili is an experienced shepherd. He has been tending sheep together with his family for years. The family owns about 3,000 sheep in Chachuni Managed Reserve in Dedoplistskaro municipality, which is used as winter pastures.
Teimuraz tells about many challenges or problems they have had from year to year, but last year his business suffered so much that they even found it difficult to keep sheep. The coronavirus pandemic has impact on his activities as well.
“The exchange rate of dollar has risen; The shepherd’s salary has increased as well as the cost for medicine for a sheep … a sheep needs a thousand things; All these costs went up and up; The cost has increased and prices could not cover that cost. I can’t tell you for this year, I haven’t even sold it yet, “Teimuraz said.
Teimuraz Javakhishvili complains about reduced demand on sheep for export or for sale at farm door during the pandemic, while the decrease of number of buyers had an even more negative impact on the price of sheep.
“It was very difficult to sell, even the client could not enter and all these dropped the price. This year we hope that the trade will resume and a buyer will appear, as there was no buyer last year. “When sheep used to be sold for, e.g. for 300 GEL, then the cost was less, and the GEL was not so depreciated,” complained the shepherd.
Photo: Sopho Aptsiauri
Giorgi Gudabadze, senior adviser to the Export Development Association, told ‘’Publika’’ that sheep breeding, like all sectors of the economy, was affected last year, but overall, compared to some other sectors, it appeared to be more resistant against pandemic and had more potential for re-emerging. .
According to Gudabadze, the local market has been reduced for some time and concerning the exports, there were problems with travvaling. Restrictions slowed down the buying and selling process. However, he said, most importantly, demand for sheep remained.
“This sector has not been particularly affected. Of course, it has been affected as all other fields, but the demand remains high, especially in the Gulf countries, and apart from some delays, no significant problems have been encountered in this sector so far”, said Giorgi Gudabadze, who believes that sheep exports with full capacity will be resumed soon.
What is the Potential of sheep export?
According to Teimuraz Javakhishvili, keeping sheep during the pandemic has become unprofitable due to deteriorated social background and increased costs. Though, selling live sheep was already cheap.
“Sheep have different prices – ram, ewe, lamb and old sheep. For example, last year the ram was worth 250; ewe and lamb – 170. The price for old sheep was no more than 150 and only in case of the highest quality, that was the maximum price”, said the shepherd.
According to Giorgi Gudabadze, the low price of sheep is also due to the fact that shepherds, as a rule, can not export themselves.
Several large farmers export sheep from Georgia. According to Gudabadze, they also buy sheep from local small farms and then sell them abroad.
The reason for this is that for some farms, especially for small farms, it is difficult to find partners abroad. In addition, sheep are usually taken in large batches. Therefore, foreign buyers also prefer to buy in bulk from large entrepreneurs.
“Of course, if small farms form cooperation, they try to take out sheep in large batch and exports will be easier for them as well,” Gudabadze said.
Exporting sheep is also related to certain difficulties. According to Gudabadze, animal products have a high risk of diseases and therefore strict regulations are imposed on it.
“Sheep export, in general, has its own rules. The export lot is provisionally 1000 sheep exported and they should be placed in quarantine, where they are observed whether the sheep has any disease and then they are allowed to export.
Quarantine in itself does not pose a problem for small farms, but even in regard to that, the buyer prefers to buy from one large exporter, rather than controlling how the sheep was quarantined by many exporters.
In general, when talking about sheep breeding and its export potential, mainly it is live sheep under consideration. According to Geostat, there were more sheep and goats than cattle in Georgia last year.
The sheep sector still has a certain role in Georgia’s agriculture and creates additional value by wool production, however, production is associated with high costs and other barriers that hinder the growth of its share.
According to Geostat, wool production stayes tha same for the last 15 years. It ranges from 1700 to 2300 tons. For the past three years, however, the wool has not reached 2,000 tons. In addition, the share of stockbreeding in agriculture has decreased in general.
Production of mutton and goat meat products keeps declining in recent years. Georgia produced up to 5,000 tons of mutton in 2020, up to 6,000 tons in 2019, and more than 9,000 tons in 2018.
Teimuraz told “Publika” that selling live sheep is less profitable, but in fact no one in Georgia currently buys either mutton or wool. So there is no other choice.
“I shave the wool and shaving the wool costs 4 GEL and I leave it there. We set it on fire and burn it, but it does not burn either. Wool is not sold at all, there are no clients. Even those who do the shaving do not need it as well. Therefore, we leave it there “- complains the shepherd.
Photo: Sopho Aptsiauri
Dimitri Arindaul has a small wool processing enterprise in Alvani. “Tusheti” has been processing wool and yarn for 15 years already. In addition, wool is supplied to craftsmen who make traditional works of applied art. But the scale of wool processing in Georgia is not large.
This is the only enterprise in Georgia, which supplies raw materials to local producers. Up to forty tons of wool is processed per season.
The pandemic has its impact even on this enterprise. “There used to work 10-12 people, now I have 8 people employed,” says Dimitri Arindauli. “The pandemic has hit us. When we creat products, we sell a part on the spot and place another part in stores throughout Georgia, where they make and sell different things.
During the pandemic, shops were closed and there is no buyer of wool. Orders stopped and we could no longer work.
We are still not working. We used to work all 12 months of the year before the pandemic. Handicraftsmen and sewers worked and they needed wool, wich we supplied. Souvenirs, etc. were especially sold during the tourist season. “Now we only work in the winter to produce yarn locally,” Dimitri Arindauli told to ‘’Publika’’.
As for Georgian wool in general and its future, according to Dimitri Arindauli, Georgian wool is coarse, so there is not much demand for it. It can be used for the production of rugs, yarn and felt. Therefore, traditional production for the local market and tourism remains of course, but Georgian wool is not used in textile production.
“It must be mentioned that today the problem of wool is all over the world. Last year we had guests at the enterprise from France and they had this problem too. Generally, the problem with wool is everywhere. Many chemical materials appeared and the demand for wool has decreased. Therefore, this problem does not bother only us. In addition to that, our wool is already less consumed, due to its rough texture.
Though, it is still utilized for various traditional souvenirs, and the demand on is, to some extent, still is more related to tourism. “If tourism develops more, the demand for woolen items and clothes will increase,” said Dimitri Arindauli.
The wool enterprise owned by Arindauli also helps to preserve traditional applied arts along with the business. His family has gradually expanded the enterprise and today they also have a wool washing system, which he says was obtained with the grant support.
Arindauli says that they did not receive help from the state, they also cope with the pandemic
period independently and try not to hinder the work of the enterprise.
However, Dito Arindauli prefares municipal or central government to be more involved in issues related to infrastructure.
“For example, we are not inactive currently. Although, there is a demand at present, but we do not have wool due to problem with transportation.
The wool is available in the mountains, but I need 1500-2000 GEL for a car to drive up and down. Then the income can no longer cover the expenses. We are forced to wait until the shepherds themselves bring it.
Moreover, when they return, it is already autumn. The weather in October is bad and washing and drying the wool is also problematic. Therefore, I would like to have some help in logistics and in arranging infrastructure.
Anyhow, we went through a pandemic period without support from the state, but we still managed to keep the enterprise. We do what we can with our forces as there is no other way, ”said Dimitri Arindauli.
Photo: “Festival of Workshops”
Apart from wool, the meat production is also not developing. In regards to that Giorgi Gudabadze emphasizes the existing problems. According to him, the prospect of processing sheep meet is not as great in Georgia today as to allow processing of mutton and export as meat products abroud.
“There are no processing enterprises for this purpose. Those that are available process less lamb as they need less. For example, Nikora and other companies that make sausages and so on. They consume less sheep.
Accordingly, there must be an enterprise that will process and be 100% or 90% export-oriented. We do not have such enterprise yet,”said Gudabadze.
However, even if there are enterprises, according to Giorgi Gudabadze, exporting milk and meat products will not be easy.
Despite the signing of the Deep and Comprehensive Trade Agreement, the EU market is opening up step by step for a variety of products and hasn’t receive dairy products yet.
“In general, concerning animal products – whether it is live animals, meat products or dairy products, we can not export them, for example, to the EU. We do not yet have a relevant license and authority.
It will be given to us in stape by step and will require years to obtain the right to export animals, meat and dairy products. But relevant issues need to be solved, including improvement of legislation in the field of veterinary and food safety, improvement of production, etc.
In addition, according to the EU policy, enterprise is given the right to export individually. A commission arrives to inspect the site, evaluate and authorize.
“We have a precedent for this, but this applies to the animal slaughter enterprise, ‘’Georgian Production’’, a company that invited the commission and now exports a product on the EU market,” Gudabadze said.
According to Gudabadze, mutton is not a mass consumption product in Georgia. Most of the farms, on the other hand, probably don’t see it as worthwhile to spend time and resources to exclusively invite inspectors from the EU and take care of obtaining export licenses. Consequently, meat production is also small.
Legislation and pastures – the main problem of sheep breeding
In addition to the production or export of wool, milk and meat products, shepherds also face problems in keeping and caring for live sheep. Both at the legislative level and in everyday life.
For example, in the Chachuni reserve, tens of thousands of sheep gather in winter. The organization SABUKO has been conducting research there since 2019, which showed that the soil is depleted and erosive processes are underway.
On the one hand, it damages the environment, and on the other hand, the care of the sheep itself becomes more expensive. When there is not enough natural green cover for animals, shepherds have to purchase additional feed.
Photo: Sopho Aptsiauri
Resource Manager of SABUKO – Marinus Gebhardt has been working there for a long time aleready. He says that he is focused on solving field problems. Among them is the introduction of rotational grazing to protect the soil from erosion, which SABUKO has started in Chachuni Managed Reserve.
Rotational grazing involves resting the pasture for some time and grazing by rotation to allow the soil to recover and renew its natural processes.
Periods of land surface restoration and growth rates depend on various factors such as: season, climate, vegetation, livestock feed ration and maximum yield per hectare. Landowners and shepherds need to balance grazing and recovery periods in which SABUKO is providing its support.
“Improving the legislation is important, but we also need to take care of improving the field life that is what we are doing here by arranging rotating pastures for shepherds, etc. Managing private land is not the job of the government but of the owner, and we are trying to help them improve their sheep grazing system,” said the researcher.
Marinus Gebhardt explains that shepherds have used rotational grazing to some extent until now. So this was not a fundamentally new thing for them. However, SABUKO creates a rotational grazing system in a different way so that the green cover can recover.
“Our rotational grazing is aimed not only at changing the pastures for a few days, but for a specific length of time that will allow the green cover to be restored. In addition, we tried to adopt a rotational grazing scheme to their system. It is not qualitatively new and different.
Our challenge was to observe, learn how the shepherds themselves worked, what their daily life was like, and then help.
“Overall, I think this approach was good. The more time we spend with them and the more we talk, the better they manage their pastures,” said Marinus Gebhardt.
However, the researcher mentioned that due to the difficult terrain conditions in Georgia, the introduction of rotational grazing requires even more effort. He says that unlike some European countries, Georgia has less open area. Consequently, unlike other European farms, the rotation system also has to be adapted to this difficult environment.
Being in the field for a few days with the shepherds and talking to them was a really good experience for me. So it is also possible to see where the rotational scheme can be used and where it is not due to difficult terrain.
However, he said, the biggest issue that causes problems with pastures for sheepherd is the gaps in the rules for renting pastures.
“Due to gaps in the legislation, sheep farm owners and shepherds have to pay more to rent pastures, so they graze more sheep to make a profit,” the researcher told to ‘’Publika’’.
One of the reasons for this problem is that shepherds or sheep farm owners could not always lease land from the state. According to the law, a person living in the same municipality has the advantage to lease land.
While this or that pasture can be used for years by a shepherd registered in another municipality. These shepherds then have to rent the land leased by the state to another person, which increases the price of the land and consequently the costs of the shepherds.
Photo: Sopho Aptsiauri
The same situation was with Teimuraz Javakhishvili as well. The land under the jurisdiction of the protected areas, which he used with his son for sheep grazing, was suddenly transferred to someone else.
Preference was given to a person registered in Dedoplistskaro municipality because the pasture is in Dedoplistskaro and Teimuraz is registered in another municipality – Sagarejo.
However, as Teimuraz tells to”Publika”, the person who was given the pasture had never been connected with this land. His sole purpose was to take advantage of the municipality and then lease the registered land expensively. Teimuraz Javakhishvili had to sell part of his sheep because the available pastures were reduced and he could no longer graze his sheep.
“What should I have done, I had to reduce the number of sheep. I put it in trailers in the middle of winter, took it out, and actually, sold it for nothing. I took two trailers, 500 sheep and sold them, because of lack of area”, complained Teimuraz.
What are the prospects of sheep breeding in Georgia?
Teimuraz Javakhishvili thinks that the sheep breeding business cannot develop only by selling live sheep. Sheep bring many benefits, but its potential is not used in Georgia, he says. The production of dairy products does not increase, nor does anyone buy wool. Even the meat production is not developed. Selling live sheep does not bring much profit.
Teimuraz still hopes that these directions may develop sooner or later. But he is not so optimistic about the future, especially now that the pandemic has impact on him like on most of the population.
“I do not know what to expect, I do not know anything. The boiler does not work in Georgia, there is no wool factory here and we only have sheep. We have sheep in Georgia, but nothing works here.
If something opens a wool factory or a boiler and accept the sheep, then we will have some expectations. “Now, I do not know what to expect,” said Teimuraz.
Photo: Sopho Aptsiauri
Despite the problems in the sheep breeding business, Giorgi Gudabadze is optimistic about the prospects of this field. According to Gudabadze, sheep breeding has not increased or decreased from year to year.
There are hundreds of thousands of sheep in Georgia and export is not declining. Demand is always high in the Gulf countries, and if the EU market opens up, it will help diversify exports and promote it further strengthening.
“I personally think that the Gulf region is more interesting for sheep exports. However, as soon as we have the opportunity to enter the EU market, we must start integration with it. The main thing is that our exporters are ready to grant this right. Because, of course, no matter how big the export to the Gulf market, market diversification is still very important.
As for the Gulf market itself, there is a huge demand and consumption of sheep there. Therefore, there is no reason for the export to decline. The most important thing is to ensure continues delivery”, said Giorgi Gudabadze.