Agriculture is the most important economic sector for rural communities in Georgia. 90 per cent of working people in rural areas are employed in agriculture. In the country as a whole, 40 per cent of the workforce makes a living from farming. However, agriculture only accounts for 8 per cent of Georgia's GDP due to a lack of competitiveness in the market.
Vocational training in agriculture is patchy and unavailable to farmers in remote areas. These factors hamper the transition to a market economy which the government has sought to bring about since Georgia gained its independence.
The Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC) is funding a project, implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), to improve living standards and boost farmers' incomes in Georgia. The project seeks to increase productivity, incomes, and jobs in the agricultural sector by helping farmers and students at agricultural colleges improve their knowledge and skills.
Switzerland brings to the project its experience and expertise in dual and continuing education and training (lifelong learning) in agricultural skills. Switzerland's expertise may also create vital links between agricultural training and development services, which are well-established in Switzerland, but not in Georgia. Partner colleges, for example, have revised their curricula to improve quality and make programmes more relevant by providing modular and short courses, which are particularly practical for women.
The first stage of the project, undertaken between 2013 and 2018, has had a very positive and tangible impact. Legislation phasing in vocational education and training and a strategy for agricultural development services has been prepared and approved at national level. 800 students graduating from A-VET (agricultural vocational education and training) courses have subsequently found employment.
For the first time, 130 students were able to pursue apprenticeships at 16 different businesses. Some 8,500 farmers have taken short courses, increasing their productivity by 33 per cent. They have also had access to customised advice, provided by 400 farming consultants, and the expertise of 300 professional instructors.
These results have, in turn, increased the take-up rate, with a 120 per cent rise in the number of students enrolling on agricultural training courses between 2013 and 2017. At government level, coordination between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Education has also improved.
A key priority at this stage is to sustain and institutionalise the results achieved, which will mean gradually transferring responsibilities to the private sector and improving the image of A-VET courses. This will involve 24 colleges, including eight colleges that already provide A-VET courses to some 400 students annually.
The second stage of the project aims to build on the progress made. The following objectives have been set:
This will enable 12,000 farmers and 1,800 students to upgrade their skills, which will ultimately make the agricultural sector more attractive by increasing productivity and income levels.