ISET Economist Blog

Farmers without Verve
Tuesday, 20 January, 2015

During the last three months, the Agricultural Policy Research Center (APRC) of ISET-PI was working on a study about family farming in Georgia. Within this project, we conducted interviews with farmers and owners of agribusinesses. These interviews elicited many intriguing facets of Georgian agriculture, but one aspect I found particularly interesting was that Georgian farmers apparently have a rather negative view on agricultural jobs.

In Samtskhe-Javakheti, we were told the story of a middle-aged unemployed man who was offered a job as a shepherd by another family from his village. For 400 GEL per month and free food, the man was supposed to bring cattle to the nearby pasture in the morning and back to the village in the evening. But despite these favorable conditions he rejected the offer and decided to find work in Turkey instead. When soon afterward he returned back to his village, he was sick and disenchanted. In Turkey, his job had been to collect trash, an unhealthy and unpleasant task, for about 12 GEL per day, amounting to a monthly salary of less than 400 GEL. Even though he earned less money in Turkey than he could have made as a shepherd, he preferred to not work in agriculture.

This may reflect a more general aversion against agricultural work. In other interviews, owners of small agribusinesses emphasized the difficulties to find reliable and motivated laborers for doing simple agricultural jobs like shepherding, collection of tea leaves and fruits, etc. These employers reported that many young people would prefer to stay unemployed and spend the whole day at so-called “birzhas” in their villages (outdoor places where people who have nothing to do get together for chatting and gossiping) instead of working in agriculture.


A straightforward explanation why people avoid agricultural jobs would be low salaries.  Yet if one compares the average monthly salaries in agriculture with average salaries in other sectors, agriculture does not do so badly.  As shown in the chart, the average monthly salary in agriculture in 2013 was 495 GEL, higher than the average salary in education (423 GEL) and about the same as the salary earned in the hotel industry (491 GEL).


Salaries in sectors like health and social work are a bit higher but quite close to the average salary in agriculture. These numbers do not support the idea that the aversion against agriculture is due to low payment.

There may be various reasons why people try to avoid agriculture. One has to get up early to milk cows, one hardly has free days, the work itself is often inconvenient and dirty. Rural areas lack entertainment facilities and infrastructure young people consider important. This may all contribute to the observed behavior, but this may be aggravated by a negative attitude towards agriculture as an employment opportunity.

The low social prestige of farmers and agriculture, in general, would be fueled by negative stereotypes about rural life. A 2013 study titled “Intercultural education research in primary grades of Georgia” by the Center for Civil Integration and Inter-Ethnic Relations analyzed Georgian school books to find out whether they contribute to the formation of stereotypes among kids. It turned out that the majority of texts in those books foster negative stereotypes regarding rural and urban life. For example, some stories evoke the impression that primarily grandparents are living in villages. Other stories found in the textbooks indirectly conveyed the message that urban kids are more willing to study than kids from rural areas. Another stereotype associated with farming and rural life is poverty.


If people have no appreciation for their jobs and workplaces, this may impair their motivation. In Georgia, many people who have small plots of land do not do anything to exploit this economic asset but rather migrate to the city, where they often live from social assistance provided by the government or move abroad. This behavior could be explained by a preconception of people that agriculture is no way to improve economically.

If people have a negative view of their jobs, they will hardly develop the drive and initiative to improve things. This may be one of the underlying factors explaining why it turns out to be so difficult to increase productivity in the agricultural sector of Georgia. Many ideas were tried out, like providing machinery to Georgian farmers or incentivizing them to form cooperatives, but did not lead to substantial productivity improvements. A lack of verve among Georgian farmers would explain the often ambivalent outcomes of such initiatives.

The 2013 study “Comparative Analysis of Agriculture in the South Caucasus”, commissioned by UNDP, compares the productivities of the agricultural sectors of Georgia and its neighboring countries. In many commodities, like wheat, maize, potatoes, and tomatoes, Georgia is lagging behind. For example, Georgians manage to grow between 5 and 10 tons of tomatoes per hectare of land, while in Armenia this number is almost 40. With potatoes, the Armenians are about 50% more productive, and they produce almost 5 times as much maize per hectare than Georgian farmers. And that is true despite the fact that there is twice as much rain in Georgia than in Armenia.

If people do not believe in their jobs, they will not be motivated and interested in acquiring knowledge, upgrading their technology, making investments, and employing new methods and technologies. This can offset the good natural conditions of a country like Georgia, which has plenty of rain and great soil. If most people working in agriculture consider their job as a survival strategy and not as a viable employment opportunity, productivity will stay low.

Perhaps, it would be useful to have an information campaign which aims to change the reputation of agricultural jobs. Modern farming in Western countries utilizes knowledge in soil science, veterinary sciences, nutrition, microbiology, ecology, chemistry, and even engineering and business administration. In developed countries, successful farmers are well-educated and know their business, they do earn money and they are not necessarily old. Today there are a few examples of this kind of farming in Georgia and one should present these as role models to the rural population in Georgia. Changing stereotypes is difficult but not impossible.

The views and analysis in this article belong solely to the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the international School of Economics at TSU (ISET) or ISET Policty Institute.