Eka Mikenaia, 41, Zugdidi

„Before 2011, my passion for cultivation of land was limited to potted plants. All my childhood I had been envious of my classmates who ran off to their countryside houses on weekends. In 2011, we participated in a grant competition within the project of USAID/NEO on growing strawberries in the village of Chkhoria – my friend Nani Pipia was from that village. We won the project and were one of the ten farmers financed by NEO. Growing strawberry in Samegrelo seemed dubious to many people including expert fruit growers and local farmers; however, thanks to close cooperation and help from foreign experts, we were able to grow alternative crops.

In Samegrelo, women in business are underappreciated. I remember one middle-aged man say ironically, look at those polished nails, those are not the nails of strawberry growers. Soon enough we debunked this myth.

Nice looking, large and thick fruit was met with suspicion by buyers. They thought we had imported genetically modified strawberries. This prompted us to organize a strawberry festival which proved a successful marketing campaign. The interest in berries grew countrywide. In 2012, we set up the Association of Berries and Fruits Growers. It unites up to 38 farmers, 18 of which are women. We help them in supply of both imported and locally grown new plants, provide training courses in agricultural engineering, and support them in selling grown crops and young plants. I believe you need to spread knowledge so that you share wellbeing with other people too. The members of our associations already can cultivate both greenhouse and open-field strawberries. We go to each region and offer trainings to them, give them saplings. Right now I’m expecting a baby so these trips are a bit exhausting for me, therefore Nana has to go alone on business trips for the time being.

In general, women who live in rural areas have to do more physical work than men. Morning starts early because you have to clean up, cook and then go to the field where you have to do manual work again as women traditionally cannot operate machinery. In the Georgian language we have the term “mother of plough”. I wonder when our women lost right to agricultural machinery because even ancient agricultural tool is related to female gender. On returning from the field you don’t have time to rest because you have more household chores to do: laundry, dishes, dinner. I have nothing to complain about my husband. He is there for me, doing his share of the hard work.

In recent years, we have been in almost all the villages of the Samegrelo region. I see increased interest of women in farming. However, we still face problems, for instance, even though we expect women to our trainings, men usually turn up. We asked for the reason many times and we were told that women are too busy to go to the trainings, they need to take care of the family. I am happy that women slowly but gradually realize that their strengthening should start with economic development on a personal level.”