The Georgian hazelnut industry has a good potential for growth, and with due efforts, annual production can be increased to 100 000 tonnes of hazelnuts or 40 000 tonnes of kernels by 2025,” said the Chairman of the Executive Board of the Georgian Hazelnut Producers Association ( GHGA) Merab Chitanava at the conference “Nuts of Ukraine: exchange of experience with Georgia” held in Tbilisi.
“According to the data, the area of hazelnut orchards in Georgia is 70 000 ha, the harvest is 40 000 tonnes. This gives specialists an understanding that our production per hectare is very low. When there are industrial orchards in different regions of Georgia reaching 2.5-3.5 tonnes per 1 ha, our average farmer has around 0.5 tonnes per 1 ha, that is, there is a high potential for growth. In the first stage, our goal is to reach an average of 1.5 tonnes per 1 ha. This is achievable very quickly, even in two seasons – thanks to the proper care of the orchards in the absence of shocks. Based on this calculation, we set the goal of reaching a production volume of 100 000 tonnes and becoming a large player in the global market. Georgia must once and for all strengthen its position and take its niche in the market of Europe and beyond,” he said.
Analyzing the current hazelnut season in Georgia, Merab Chitanava said that due to rainy weather and other factors, the 2022 hazelnut harvest is about 30% lower than the previous one (40 000 tonnes against 55 000 tonnes). The core yield rate also decreased – to 32% from 38%. At the same time, “Ferrero has increased the share of hazelnut purchases in Georgia, which means that the relative share of premium quality products in Georgia is growing,” he said.
Among the challenges the sector currently faces, along with the still urgent problem of the marble bug, Merab Chitanava named the lack of storage and drying infrastructure – “improper storage begins to affect the quality of hazelnuts a month after harvest”, as well as poor care for orchards by farmers in Western Georgia. At the same time, comprehensive work is being carried out in the country to solve the problems: new drying and storage enterprises are being built, a total of 3 000 installations for combating marble bugs have been distributed to hazelnut growers, access to credit resources has been facilitated, small farmers are provided financial assistance in the amount of 500 GEL ($185) per 1 ha, sufficient to purchase all the necessary agrochemicals, etc.
“A feature of the Georgian hazelnut sector is huge support from the state, the Ministry of Agriculture, as well as donor organizations… To date, the necessary basic platform has been created, farmers are supported both in technical and resource terms, and next season should be an indicator for the Georgian hazelnut sector of what potential it can achieve,” he stressed.
As for the hazelnut processing infrastructure, according to Merab Chitanava, it is quite well-developed in Georgia.
Merab Chitanava’s full speech:
“We have over 40 processing plants with modern production lines. The products are various, both natural hazelnuts and semi-finished products – roasted, blanched hazelnuts, flour, paste, etc. There are enterprises making products of very high standards, and we can compete with both Turkish and European producers. The capacity of the processing sector is now twice as high as production. And yet there is still potential – both in terms of production and processing,” said the chairman of the GHGA executive board.
As for global demand and prices for hazelnuts, due to a number of factors, they are relatively reduced, which is also a challenge for the Georgian hazelnut industry, Chitanava said. He expressed the hope that the reasons will gradually be resolved, and demand will increase in the coming years.
At the end of the 2021-22 season, Georgia became the 4th among the largest exporters of hazelnuts (after Turkey, Italy, and Azerbaijan). According to the GHGA, it may be in the TOP-5 this season. The main export destinations for Georgian hazelnuts are the EU countries (particularly Italy and Germany), as well as China and the United States.
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