Czech cooperation aid in Georgia: From local business support to landscape protection
Landscape protection, development of tourism and support of alternative social services – these are just a few examples of Czech development cooperation projects that are currently running in Georgia. The mountainous country located on the border between Europe and Asia is one of the Czech Development Agency’s six priority countries and the two states have very close ties.
Barbara Dzhabanishvili lives in the remote mountain village of Tkiliana in the Pshav-Khevsureti Protected Landscape Area. Together with her large family she runs a small guesthouse. Barbara is one of the many local people who have benefited from a grant provided by the Aragvi Local Action Group. The project, run by the Czech NGO People in Need, aims to improve the socio-economic situation of the local people, including by developing tourism.
The Midamo guesthouse is located in the picturesque valley of the Aragvi River, and Barbara runs it together with her parents and nine siblings. While her parents are in charge of transport and cooking, Barbara and her adult brother take care of guests.
A grant from the Aragvi Local Action Group project enabled them to buy new furniture, as well as to attend various training courses. Barbara hopes that they will soon attract not just tourists from Georgia but also visitors from abroad. In the future, the family would like to expand their business, for example by providing horse rides.
The picturesque mountainous region with its unique landscape has great tourist potential, which has not yet been fully exploited. Local action groups and small grants are one of the tools that can contribute to sustainable development of the area, while involving the local people.
Ramazi Chichinadze, a communications officer at the Georgian branch of People in Need, which has long been active in the country, explains what it involves:
“We are a local action group consisting of people living in Aragvi which establishes the priority sectors that need to be developed.
“For example, the group decides that there is a need to create tourist facilities, so they announce a grant aimed for accommodation facilities or guest houses.
“People will then come up with various propositions and an expert committee will choose who to award the grant, based on a set of previously established criteria.”
The group was established in 2020 and to date it has supported almost a hundred different initiatives, including the Midamo guesthouse. According to Ramaze Chichinadze, such activities have the biggest impact on local people’s lives:
“Local action groups are an important tool in regional development in Georgia. The first local action group was established by People in Need in Kazbegi and it was very successful. After that, more local action groups were established.
“This is what we call a bottom-up strategy. The main idea behind this approach is that the people who live in the region know their needs best. That’s why they define the priorities and develop the strategies. It is a really effective tool for the development of the region.”
Czech development cooperation in Georgia has a long tradition and is far from being limited to community development projects. Czechs started helping in the country in 2009, following armed conflict with Russia, says Petra Mojžíšová, project manager at the Czech Development Agency:
“Development aid in Georgia started as a humanitarian aid within the country’s post-war reconstruction. Since it was already established, Georgia has become one of the priority countries of Czech development cooperation. This was between 2010 and 2017.
“As of 2018, Georgia is a so-called programme country. This means that we have developed a conceptual documenting setting up priorities in which Czechia wants to cooperate with Georgia and provide its know-how.”
According to Petra Mojžíšová, Czech cooperation in Georgia is very effective compared to other countries, which is partly due to the long-term partnership between the two states:
“Georgia has a relatively transparent state administration and NGO’s in the country are not persecuted. That’s why Czech NGOs, such as Caritas Czech Republic or People in Need, have offices there, which have local employees and therefore have a bigger reach.”
Georgia is currently one of the fastest growing economies in the world, but it still faces a number of challenges, including a lack of access to health and social services and low agricultural productivity.
The Czech development cooperation in Georgia therefore focuses on three different areas: inclusive social development, agriculture and rural development, and good democratic governance.
With nearly 70,000 square kilometres, Georgia is a relatively small country, but it has an incredibly rich cultural heritage and unique natural attractions. Indeed, nature protection has been one of the focuses of the Czech development cooperation in the country.
One such project of the Czech Development Agency, implemented by the Krkonoše National Park Administration, is currently underway in the Aragvi region. Its aim is to ensure sustainable management of the newly created protected landscape area. Michael Hošek is in charge of developing a management plan for this unique natural landscape:
“A very important aspect of the whole project is that protected landscape administration in Georgia falls under municipalities, which means under the local communities.
“So for us, it is something like a tool that allows the local community to administrate and manage their own area in more or less a traditional way.”
Michael Hošek has been working on development projects in Georgia for more than a decade. In the past, he has developed a similar plan for the Tusheti region, located in the north of the country on the border with Chechnya. Today, the area attracts thousands of tourists each year, also thanks to a new set of hiking trails marked by Czech experts.
When the project’s activities in Tusheti ended in 2018, Hošek and his colleagues were approached by the Georgian Ministry of Environment to create a similar plan for the Aragvi region.
“The project in Aragvi is a bit different, because we have more experience. Although we are still preparing a management plan for them, we also have more capacity building activities, such as trainings and workshops.
“The area of Aragvi is much larger and there are three different ethnic groups, so it’s a bit more difficult to communicate with them and we have to harmonize the activities among themselves as well.
“The area is not as interesting as Tusheti, so there are just hundreds of tourists staying in the area during the summer, while thousands of others travel through to Pshav-Khevsureti National Park. Our goal of course is to attract tourists to stay there, because there is a lot to see and do in Aragvi.”
In addition to experts from the Krkonoše National Park, there are also specialists from the Institute for Forest Management in Brandýs nad Labem working in the Aragvi protected area. The goal of their project is to implement sustainable forestry practices, explains one of the members of the team, Tadeáš Štěrba.
“Forests in Georgia are generally very diverse. The Aragvi region is particularly interesting because its forests are strikingly similar to those in our country.
“There are a number of common species that we find in Europe, such as hornbeam or maple and elm varieties. So there are a number of analogies that are also found in our oak woods and beech forests.”
The vast forests are a source of livelihood for the local population, but they also play a vital role in mitigating the impact of climate change, explains Štěrba.
“So far, Georgia hasn’t had any forest management plan, but we expect that the pressure on natural resources will increase in the near future just as it happens all over the world.
“By establishing a new protected landscape area, we have created a complex set of activities for its sustainable development. Its purpose is to ensure that they are not fragmented and that they make sense.”
To date, the Czech Development Agency in Georgia has supported several dozen projects, with around 10 running just this year. According to the agency’s project manager Petra Mojžíšová, the vast majority of them have been very successful, despite a limited budget. She says this is also thanks to a close cultural connection between the two countries:
“I think Georgians like us and we like them. This is also the reason why our projects have been successful. Moreover, it is a beautiful country and from my experience, most of the Czech cooperation experts who have been there want to come back, because it is really nice to work there.
"Sustainability is definitely one of the most important attributes of our work in the country. We want to leave something behind and we want it to work even after we are gone. And I think we have been successful.”