ISET Economist Blog

The Georgian Christmas tree
Saturday, 24 December, 2011

What would Christmas be without a Christmas tree? In Georgia, in Europe, or anywhere else in the world. But little known to most Europeans, most trees sold in Europe can trace their origin to Georgia. It is the seeds of the Nordmann fir which are exported from Georgia to Christmas tree farms in Denmark, Germany, and other countries. Why? The Nordmann firs from the mountain regions of Georgia are some of the finest in the world – what Bordeaux is for the wine world, Ambrolauri in Racha is for Christmas tree producers.

Already in the 1960s Danish and German Christmas tree farmers traveled to what was then Soviet Georgia to explore the tree population and to develop trade relations. The business is not pretty. The best Nordmann firs grow at altitudes between 900 and 2200 meters and have a height of up to 60 meters. The cones have to be harvested from the tree, which means that pickers have to climb up – a dangerous and very tough job. Safety equipment is rarely used, and each year pickers die. They are paid little, but living in one of the poorest regions of the country there are few alternatives.

For one kilogram of seeds, up to ten kilograms of cones are needed. Pickers are paid around two euros per kilogram of seeds. Intermediate traders holding licenses sell one kilogram of seeds for 25 Euro to Europe, where the seeds are traded at a price of around 100 Euro. One kilogram of seeds produces up to 5000 Christmas trees – after five to ten years of growth. In a season of one to two months a picker can make up to 1000 Euro, enough to attract hundreds of pickers to Racha, too many given how dangerous and tough this job is.

How will I celebrate Christmas this year? With a Christmas tree, of course, grown in Germany or Denmark with seeds that have traveled all the way from Georgia five or ten years ago. Merry Christmas to all of you!

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.