Georgia pins hopes on South African Boers

Farmers in Georgia say they fear being pushed off their own land as the government wants to attract agricultural workers from South Africa, hoping their expertise will revive the industry's flagging fortunes.


Three acres of land, but his family barely scrapes by – Otar Gogoladze lives on potato soup all year-round. He is one of many farmers struggling to survive in Georgia. Though he has plenty of land, he cannot afford to grow anything on it.

“The fuel for the tractor is too expensive. The pension I get is 80 lari. Most of this goes towards my medication. After I buy that, I hardly have anything left over,” Otar says.

He has a heart condition, but still works the land, choosing straining his health over hunger. His neighbor Ramaz is hardly any better off.

“They gave us American seeds a couple of years ago, but they failed to thrive,” Ramaz complains. “We hardly gathered any harvest, and I know most of the people in my village are struggling.”

The Georgian government has introduced a policy it says will turn all this around. It is encouraging huge numbers of South African farmers to come to the country, bringing fresh ideas and expertise.

But the plans have been met with stiff opposition in the fields of agriculture and politics alike.

“Our government is conducting a policy of betrayal of their own country. They’re creating problems for Georgians by not only strengthening punishment for underdeveloped farms, but by also inviting South African Boers to come and work here,” believes Georgi Gugava, ideological secretary of the Labour Party. “Our farmers will be forced to abandon their land because they cannot afford to farm. They don’t produce enough to sustain themselves, let alone sell anything to make a profit.”

The government appears to be ploughing a lone furrow on the issue. But it has shrugged-off all criticism and believes the scheme will revive an ailing industry.

“Boers are very well known agriculturalists, they’re the best farmers in the world, so it’s natural that they’re looking for markets close to Europe, to Asia,” said minister for diaspora issues Papuna Davitaia. “Members from the agricultural Transvaal region came to Georgia one month ago, we showed them the opportunities they could have here.”

There may be an influx of as many as 40,000 Boers who will be able to buy as much land as they want. And Boers do not know what to expect from the Georgian land and people. Currently, South African farmers’ knowledge about agriculture in their potential new home is sketchy, at best.