EBRD has helped Marneuli achieve strong growth for years
Everybody loves Georgian food but most people do not realize how much of it Georgia imports.
Economists may say that agriculture in Georgia is a promising industry. Very few people would actually start up a new farming venture from scratch.
But in Georgia you often do have to start from scratch because what was left over from Soviet times is in ruins.
We did just that. We created something from nothing – not only our company but the whole country. And when I look at what we have achieved, and taste our lovely traditional sauces, pickles and marmalades made of the best Georgian fruit and vegetables, I know it’s all been worth it.
Our company, Marneuli Food Factory, is today one of the largest agricultural companies in Georgia and owns over 1000 ha of land. We produce over 60 products, from tomato paste to our traditional sauces Adjika and Tkemali, made entirely of Georgian fruit and vegetables, half of which we grow ourselves and half we buy from local suppliers.
Marneuli Food Factory was founded in 2007, within a holding, Magrebeli JSC, which was itself established in 1997. The holding also produces famous mineral waters Nabeglavi and Bakhmaro and includes an agricultural company Marneuli Agro and distribution company Engadi.
With the help of EBRD financing which has allowed us to buy new equipment, increase production and improve crop productivity, we have been growing very strongly every year.
Today we supply about 45 per cent of the domestic pickles market and about a third of the tomato paste market.
But the market can absorb so much more local food. Take traditional pickles. Do they really have to come from Vietnam? That is one of the imports we want to replace, and we have the capacity to triple production.
Our main problem is the supply of raw materials. One of the biggest issues we have encountered is the low productivity of Georgian agriculture. For example, the average Georgian farm produces 20 tonnes of tomatoes per hectare while in Europe and Turkey it is 90, and in the USA up to 120 tonnes.
This is one of the areas where the EBRD’s assistance has been instrumental. With the Bank’s help, we invited agronomy experts from all over the world – Australia, Turkey, Switzerland, Germany – and tried to adapt their approach to Georgian conditions while not compromising on our high quality and environmental standards. As a result, we increased our yield of tomatoes to 70 tonnes/ha and our cucumbers, which started at 12 tonnes/ha, are now at 60. But we want to aim for Germany’s harvest of 120 tonnes!
I am also very proud that the existence of Marneuli food factory has provided a major boost to local farmers. In 2007, when we started, there were only a few small farmers whose produce we could buy. Today, there are over 150. All our fruit and over half of vegetables are grown by small farmers. But we need much more supply, not only from small farmers but from larger suppliers who can deliver industrial quantities of goods.
Those suppliers do not exist at the moment and much still needs to be done for investors to feel secure when entering the sector. But the investment climate is improving and I hope to see more agricultural companies come to the market in Georgia and work with us.
Irina Gaprindashvili is the Director of Marneuli food factory