The Biological Farming Association Elkana is a Georgian nongovernmental organization established in October 1994.
Elkana aims at improvement of the socio-economic conditions of the Georgian population and environmental protection through the fostering the development of sustainable organic farming and increasing self-reliance of the rural population.
Having started with 9 farmers in 1994 at present the Association works with over 2,000 farmers all over Georgia, including farmer groups, associations, cooperatives, enterprises, etc. Elkana equally cooperates both with men and women. Women played significant role not only in foundation of the organisation, but also in its further development and current activities.
Elkana has a mandate and operates almost in all regions of Georgia. Since the establishment with support of international donors, such as WB, UNDP, GEF, EC, GIZ, Brot für die Welt, SDC, HEKS, FAO, IFAD, KfW, WWF, etc., the organization has implemented more than 100 projects in Agriculture & Rural Development, Rural Tourism and Agricultural Biodiversity Conservation.
Elkana has particular experience in agriculture sector.
Since the establishment, organizations’ consultants provide consultancy & extension service in different agricultural sectors for both – primary production and value chain development.
Furthermore, Elkana is active in rural development processes through community mobilization and supporting business and self-help processes.
In addition, the organisation works on conservation of agricultural biodiversity preserving indigenous crop varieties and domestic animal breeds.
Elkana has developed and distributed plentiful printing & study material in agricultural sector – advisory handouts, brochures on organic production, pest management, green operations, etc.
Elkana’s scope of activity is the following:
The organization has main office in Tbilisi, an office in Akhaltsikhe (Samtskhe-Javakheti) and representations in Samegrelo (Zugdidi), Shida Kartli (Gori), Kakheti (Dedoplistskaro), Mtskheta-Mtianeti (Tianeti). In addition, Elkana operates with two conservation farms – Seed Ark farm in vil. Tsnisi (Samtskhe-Javakheti) and local animal breeds’ farm in vil. Zemo Khodasheni (Kakheti).
Find more about Elkana on: www.elkana.org.ge
Program of a Two Days tour to Samtskhe-Javakheti
Samtskhe-Javakheti is a historic part of Georgia and is located in the southern part of the country. Distinguished by diverse ecosystems, natural landscapes, historical and cultural monuments, Samtskhe-Javakheti is an intriguing region. Its altitude varies from 1500 to 3300 meters. The region is ethnically diverse, home to ethnic Georgians as well as Greeks, Armenians, Osetians, Ukrainians, Russians, and other minorities. The region’s present population is approximately 155 900.
The region’s diverse landscape and natural resources include mountainous terrain, several highland volcanic plateaus, mountain steppes, alpine and sub-alpine vegetation, canyons, rivers, large and small lakes, as well as wetland marshes.
During the summer most of the region is cool (<+15 +200C), precipitation is low (600-700 mm annually) and cloudy days are few. Mountainous conditions in other seasons include passing rains, with cold and snowy winters.
In fact, the Javakheti Plateau is known for its comparatively inclement winters, snowy for up to four months (December through March) with snows often 15-20 cm deep, and 40-50 cm in the Alpine areas.
Tourist infrastructure is well developed in the territory of Samtskhe-Javakheti. There is a large choice of different private hotels and family hotels. There are many restaurants and cafes in townships and along the main road.
Tourists can enjoy different kinds of tours and activities: cultural-educational, religious, adventurous, 4X4 wheel drive, birdwatching, walking tours, archeological, ethnological, ecological, photo-video, horse riding, fishing, botanical, architectural, boating, rafting.
Samtskhe-Javakheti is noted for a wide biological diversity and high endemism, with the greatest proportion of any region of the southern Caucasus devoted to reserves and parks. Many species of flora and fauna are endemic to Georgia or the South Caucasus.
Primeval mountain forests have been preserved in many places, and there is a diversity of rare medicinal plants. Throughout the territory of the Samtskhe-Javakheti region broad-leaved forests are found in lower lands, with coniferous forests at higher altitudes, and birch forests even higher, with Alpine and sub-Alpine meadows at altitudes over 1850 meters. Medical plant species used in traditional medicine in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region total about 200. The local population uses herbs and occasionally forest plants, mushrooms and algae.
Samtskhe-Javakheti is one of the oldest inhabited parts and important and culturally advanced provinces of Georgia. There are many archeological sites in the region although much about it is still unknown. Artifacts found during archeological diggings indicate that Samtskhe-Javakheti was settled during the Bronze Age.
The strategic location was favorable for the cultural and economic development of the region. Located at the crossroads of three civilizations, it facilitated relations between the ancient cultures of Georgia, Asia Minor and the Middle East. All neighbors and invaders (Greeks, Persians, Mongols, Arabs, Turks) tried to influence Samtskhe-Javakheti but region managed to preserve its traditions but diversify its everyday life. Representatives of different religious confessions – Orthodox, Islam, Catholic, Dukhobor, Gregorian or Judaism live here side by side till now.
During the Golden Age, Samtskhe-Javakheti represented the cultural and educational center of Georgia. They were building beautiful churches and monasteries, and fortresses and chambers; goldwork and fresco schools were developed. There are many architectural monuments on the territory of Samtskhe-Javakheti: Saphara (IX century), Zarzma (IX century), Phoka Church (XI century), Kumurdo Church (X century), Gandza (XIII century), Abuli Church (X century), Baraleti Church (XI century), Akhalkalaki Fortress and former settlement (XI century), Atskuri Fortress (X-XVI centuries), Tsunda (XII-XIII centuries), Vardzia (XII-XIII centuries), Vani Cave (XII-XIII centuries), Bieti (second half of the XIV century), Khertvisi Fortress (X-XIV centuries) and many other monuments dating back to the VIII-XV centuries.
Great Meskheti was an economically developed region. It was also known as the granary of Georgia since it was the country’s main supplier of wheat, flax and legumes, while the locally produced apple and wine were exported abroad.
Today, the region’s principal agricultural branches are grain, potato and fruit growing, cattle breeding, beekeeping; vineyards and winemaking – on a limited scale. Cereals cultivated here include wheat, barley, oats, maize and flax.
The influence of Samtskhe-Javakheti’s multicultural history remains evident in its foods. Legumes currently cultivated include haricot bean, fava-bean, chickpea, grass pea and lentil; also potatoes are a well-known crop in the region.
In addition to livestock breeding, dairy products have been developed. Milk is used for such cheeses as guda (sheep cheese), chechili (a brined string cow cheese) and tenili which is a mixed sulguni (mozzarellatype cheese) and cream.
Local wheat species – Akhaltsikhe Tsiteli Doli and Javakhetian Dika – are critically endangered, although there is an increased interest in these species locally as they have exceptional taste and resistance to severe climatic conditions.
Samtskhe-Javakheti is known for dishes using local cereal crops. A purne (bread oven) holds a special place in SamtskheJavakheti homes and is used to bake a variety of breads including lavashi (a soft, paper-thin flatbread), shoti (Meskhetian holed bread), kakala (round bread made by dividing the dough into round pieces and cooking them on a thick stone), and somin (somun in Turkish is bread baked on a moderate fire and noted for keeping its freshness longer).
Dough was also used in cooking other local dishes such as tatarberagi, which is a flattened dough shaped like a butterfly and boiled in salty water, eaten with the addition of matsoni (yogurt), garlic, and onion roasted in melted butter; bishi and fatirbishi (dough fried in oil or cooked in melted butter); lukhumi (round pieces of souffl é-like paste roasted in oil or melted butter); katmar, a five-layer rolled butter pastry similar to Georgian kada; sironi, which are Meskhetian noodles eaten with matsoni. Another dough based food is home-made macaroni, called erishta and makarlama.
A traditional Meskhetian dish is khinkali, ravioli-like boiled dumplings found all over Georgia, but here stuffed with apokhti (goose meat cured and dried), seasoned with pepper and steamed.
Mulberry is distilled to make vodka and also to make tklapi (“fruit leather”), pelamushi (fruit juice pudding), chiri (dried fruit) and bakmazi (boiled-down mulberry).
Vodka is also made from chanchuri plums while tklapi, pelverda (jam), chiri, can also be made from these plums and used to create walnut churchkhelas, a nutritious dried juice product containing walnuts, somewhat resembling candles hung to dry.
All these products can be bought on the road leading to Vardzia, in Nijgori and Khertvisi villages. Apiculture is common and local honey from the flowers of alpine meadows is well known for its quality and taste.
Ancient local apple varieties (Malus domestica) distinguished by their special taste and aroma include turashauli, abilauri, shakarnabada, mepis vashli, mzis skhivi, msukana, rakraka, rdzevashli, and others still grown in Meskheti.
Archaeological finds in the region include grape seeds. This testifies to well-developed winemaking practices in Georgia as long as 7,000 years ago. “(…) Meskhetians are skillful farmers and the locality abounds in vineyards”, states the Byzantine historian Procopius of Caesarea (VI c). Tending vineyards and winemaking held a special place in Great Meskheti where we still find marani, or wine cellars in caves, stone winepresses, and local grape varieties. Ancient stone terraces were used in Javakheti to combat soil erosion, and these permitted the inhabitants to cultivate vineyards and orchards.
The history is substantiate with origin-linked products, that are traditional agrifood products with quality features and unique characteristics that can be clearly linked to their geographical origins. In this sense, the Samtskhe-Javakheti region has an important potential for the development of Georgigraphical Indications (GIs) or apellations of origin (AOs).
GEORGRAPHICAL INDICATIONS related with the samtskhe Javakheti region are: Cheese-Tenili cheese, Meskhetian chechili, Guda, Potato – The “Akhalkalakis Kartopili” and “Ninotsminda honey”.
Javakhetian Dika, one of the forms of the endemic Dika wheat (Triticum carthlicum Nevski), historically comes from Javakheti. Dika is a high-mountain spring wheat. specifically adapted to harsh conditions in the high altitudes (750-2000 meters above sea level) of the Javakheti Plateau, which shows hard winters, remaining snowy for up to four months (December to March).
Its spike looks very much like the typical wheat spike; a distinctive feature is the existence of beardlike appendages on the husk of a spikelet. In earlier centuries, Dika was sown alone, as well as mixed with high-mountain species of soft wheat. In “pure sowings,”Dika has three main forms: white, red and black. The red-spike variety was the most commonly found, while the black and white forms were relatively rare.
Dika’s fungal and frost resistance is very important, as early spring frosts occur often in the high mountains. Dika grain is characterized by good baking quality, and for centuries it has been used for baking bread, Khachapuri (cheese-bread) or Kada (filled pastry with sugar), to which the wheat gives a distinctive smell and taste. It is also used as a porridge – sweet or salty (Kolio,Korkoti, Tsandili) – made from soaked and boiled grains or from crushed grains.
The region, a part of Great Meskheti, was once well known as the main granary and wheat supplier in Georgia. However, production in the region has beendrastically reduced during the Soviet period. At present, Javakhetian Dika is produced in Samtskhe-Javakheti by a few family farmers mainly for their own consumption. However, consumer interest in local wheats is growing; therefore, cultivation of Dika in Javakheti has good potential.
Akhaltsikhis Tsiteli Doli is a widespread, aboriginal, Meskhetian landrace of Triticum aestivum – a soft wheat. It was derived from the red variety of Triticum aestivum under harsh climatic conditions (found from lowlands up to 1 500 meters above sea level), to which it has adapted.
Akhaltsikhis Tsiteli Doli is a winter wheat. The stem is average in height. The plant has average foliage. Its spike is red, awned, medium-sized and in a spindle form, which bends at the maturity phase. The shoulder of the spikelet glume is wider and more elevated. The grain is red, oval-oblong and vitreous. The cereal contains less gluten than other varieties and is nutritious.
It is used as flour for baking traditional bread, Khachapuri (cheese-bread) or Kada (filled pastry with sugar), to which the wheat gives a distinctive smell and taste, and which remains soft for a long time. It is also used as a porridge – sweet or salty (Kolio, Korkoti, Tsandili) – made from soaked and boiled grains or from crushed grains.
Cultivation of this wheat was almost abandoned in the Soviet period due to the planned economy; however, over the last 20 years the restoration of traditional knowledge and reintroduction of this crop is taking place. Every year, approximately 25-30 new farmers in Georgia engage in cultivation of this variety.
The name is used to designate the product by producers and the local communities for the markets in Georgia. In other countries it is known by different names – e.g. Caucasus Rouge in France. The product is sold in regions of Georgia and in Tbilisi, and also directly from farmers to artisanal and industrial bakeries.