4th conference on rural development in Georgia

On the 26th of March the 4th conference on rural development in Georgia “Future of LEADER approach in Georgia” took place in Tbilisi, in the Radisson Blu Iveria Hotel. The event was co-organized by the partners of the ENPARD project “Strengthening Rural Development Models in Georgia”. ELARD’s role was to compose a conference session designated to showcase EU’s and EU Member States’ strong support to LEADER/CLLD. For that purpose, a team of speakers from different EU institutions and LEADER-practitioners from different EU Member States and different implementation levels (managing authority, national support unit, LAG) were asked to share their views during the conference.

The conference started with opening speeches by Ketevan Khutsishvili (Programme Manager EU Delegation to Georgia), George Khanishvili (First Deputy Minister of Environment Protection and Agriculture of Georgia), Irakli Kasrashvili (Country Director, Mercy Corps in Georgia) and Kristiina Tammets (Vice President of ELARD).

The first session of the conference concentrated on the introduction of the current state in LEADER/CLLD implementation in Georgia. Giga Sarukhanishvili gave an overview about the LEADER history in Georgia (find here the presentation) showcasing clearly LEADER’s contribution into different sectors and current practices’ accordance with LEADER methodology. Salome Bakashvili’s presentation (find here the presentation) was about LEADER as behavioural change platform for Good Governance and rural development. She pointed out several strong arguments from different evaluation and policy papers about the potential of LEADER in Georgia and needs for next steps to build on that potential. Lana Chaduneli (find here the presentation) introduced the Georgian Association of Local Action Groups (GALAG) activities and it’s main positions related to the recognition of LEADER/CLLD’s and LAG’s crucial role in tackling rural development challenges in Georgia.

The second session of the conference was dedicated to the topics of rural development in the EU and the future of the LEADER approach. The session started with an inspirational and comprehensive Skype-presentation given by Karolina Jasinska-Mühleck from the European Commission DG Agri. She gave an overview about the role of LEADER in the European rural development and touched upon the lessons learnt and perspectives of the post-2020 developments related with LEADER and CLLD. After that, LEADER-practitioners from different countries and different implementation levels gave overviews about their activities and opinions about the potential of LEADR/CLLD. Firstly, Mr Taavi Kurvits from the Estonian Ministry of Rural Affairs introduced the LEADER-implementation in Estonia from the national authority’s perspective. Mr Alistair Prior from Scottish Rural Network Support Unit (Scottish Government) gave an overview about their current activities and good practices and Mrs Bettina Betzhold, LAG representative from Saxony, Germany, reflected LEADER-implementation practices in Saxony, whereas the national government covers 40% of the total LEADER-budget.

After that, LEADER/CLLD-related positions and support of different EU-level institutions and organisations were introduced to the audience. Kristiina Tammets  gave an overview about ELARD’s main activities and inputs into EU rural development policy-making. The role and potential of EU’s Committee of the Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) were introduced by Radim Srsen (find here the presentation) and Roman Haken. The current state of LEADER-implementation was introduced by Kristiina Tammets – she highlighted that the potential of the bottom-up approach to contribute to local and rural development has been proven to be interesting and useful in a number of countries.

At the final part of the conference Shorena Sujashvili from Kasbegi LAG (find here the presentation) and Nino Tikurishvili from Tetriskaro LAG introduced the main challenges of current and perspective LEADER-implementation in Georgia, mainly related to the recognition of the LAGs as strong development institutions on local level and the sustainability of their success-stories and activities. In her conclusive remarks, ELARD’s project coordinator Kadri Tillemann noted that the conference gave an understanding that there’s a strong support and a wide range of allies for LEADER/CLLD in EU and neighborhood countries and in different institutions and there lies a potential to continue with LEADER-implementation in Georgia to build on the proven success of the Georgian operational LAGs.

During the following day, ELARD’s experts and invited speakers visited Borjomi region to get introduced with successful project examples implemented/funded by Borjomi LAG. In the village of Timotesubani an enamel workshop was visited – established by a young female entrepreneur to contribute to local economy and employment possibilities as well as to widen the range of local handicraft products for visitors of Borjomi. Youth center in Borjomi town was also visited – a well-equipped center to offer wide range of free-time activities for local children and youth. In the village Akhaldaba a Georgian wrestling arena was visited – an example of preservation of local heritage and provision of activities for local population in the village.