Observations while Traveling through Samegrelo | Agriculture and Petty Crime

Much has been written about agriculture in Georgia, and the need to develop it extensively. Our upcoming reports on social capital (currently still under review with the donor) have some material on that. The typical concerns are well established: although fertile, Georgia is actually importing food. More than 50% of the employed work in agriculture, but it only contributes around 10% to GDP. And more than 50% of Georgia’s arable land lies fallow. 

The reasons are also familiar: privatization separated the land into small parcels that were not viable for modern farming. The people left in the countryside often are conservative and skeptical, and not quick to adopt more productive methods. They do not cooperate, and thus cannot mobilize sufficient resources to develop their land.

Traveling through Samegrelo recently highlighted another challenge. The structure of landholdings makes them particularly vulnerable to petty crime. Often the holdings are away from people’s houses, so that they cannot guard them. During planting season seeds, seedlings and little plants can be stolen from the field at night, so that investing into better plants is not very attractive. Moreover, shepherds don’t always respect fields that have just been fenced off anew, and let their cows trott into enclosures; or cut the fence to let a stray cow out, without repairing it.

During harvest season, the problem is even more pronounced. Unless you harvest early, your crop is at threat. And if you harvest early, you may be doing damage to the fruit. For some of the crop, the harvest season is quite long, so that the fields remain vulnerable over several weeks.

If you have a small holding, it is hard to address this problem. Sleeping outdoors on your field will only get you so far, and is not sustainable over time.  With average landholdings being around less than two hectares (one hectare being a bit bigger than a soccer field), the plots are too small to pay for a security guard. Typically you will need two guards, so that they can support each other. Professional security firms would charge up to $1,000 per month. This makes it particularly difficult to experiment with higher value crops (say, avocado) since you may need a security guard to protect a handful of plants. Easier to fall back on what you have always done. 

Planting in Samegrelo. This effort has fences, two security guards constantly, night vision goggles, and is about to add a trained guard dog.

We are curious whether other people have heard about this problem. If it indeed appears to be a challenge, it would be worth researching this in more detail. The government could help address this issue by providing more security through increased policing and curbing road access, together with introducing stiff sentences to signal that stopping agricultural theft is important for Georgia’s economic development. Comments and ideas?