Georgia’s New Tea Route

With the support of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), municipal governments in Ajara and Guria, the National Tourism Agency, the governments of Switzerland and Austria, and other partners, a Tea Route has been established in western Georgia.

The route, modeled after similar routes in other countries and the successful wine routes that crisscross eastern Georgia, is meant to help visitors learn about Georgia’s tradition of tea production and better access some of the best quality tea currently being grown. There is also potential for the route to increase tourism in some of western Georgia’s more rural areas, providing income opportunities for local populations.

On July 11-12, representatives of 25 tour operators and more than 20 hotels from the Black Sea coast region were invited to Guria for a workshop that explored the “touristic potential of the newly established Tea Route in western Georgia,” says the UNDP. The workshop was designed to inform relevant partners about the Tea Route and other lesser-known gems of western Georgia so that they can share the information with visitors to the region who might be interested. Alongside formal meetings, the workshop included discussions with local entrepreneurs, a visit to a nearby trout farm, and conversations with representatives from municipal governments in Ajara and Guria.

Using the hashtag #discoverGuria, UNDP Georgia shared several photos on its Facebook page related to the new Tea Route, writing “The newly established Tea Route in western Georgia creates new touristic and developmental opportunities for mountainous Guria, one of the poorest regions in Georgia. UNDP and the governments of Switzerland and Austria assist local municipalities team up with business and communities to unlock this rich potential.”

In recent years, the Government of Georgia has taken steps to revive the nearly dead tea industry. In 2016, the Georgian Ministry of Agriculture initiated the ‘Georgian Tea’ program to restore abandoned tea plantations. As part of the program, participants receive financial support to bring plantations up to international standards for export.

Georgia once had a flourish tea economy. According to global industry website STiR, at the height of Georgian tea production in 1985, 152,000 metric tons of tea were produced by mechanical harvesting methods from 60,000 hectares growing tea plants. If Georgia had been an independent country, it would have been the world’s fourth-largest exporter of the crop.

Comparisons have been made with the Georgian wine industry: under Soviet management the focus was on quantity over quality. As wine growing in the country today is increasingly emphasizing natural, organic, and local production, the tea industry aims to follow suit. Tea harvesting by hand is a labor-intensive process, but pickers in Georgia can earn up to $11 per day – higher than the average national income and a significant opportunity for people in rural villages who would otherwise be without formal or consistent employment. According to Renegade Tea Estate, a plantation near Kutaisi established in 2017 by Baltic expats, the Georgian tea industry once employed approximately 150,000 people, but almost completely collapsed in the first five years after Georgia’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

In May, the Ozurgeti Municipality hosted their first Ozurgeti Tea Festival, as part of the Tea Route project. More than 20 Georgian tea producers were involved in the festival, which was supported by the Administration of Governor of Guria, UNDP in Georgia, and the governments of Switzerland and Austria.

“Georgia has a rich history of tea production,” Louisa Vinton, UNDP Head in Georgia, said at the festival. “Reviving this tradition in Guria is bringing benefits both to tea producers and to businesses catering to tourists keen to experience authentic local culture. Given Georgia’s diversity of local identities, this is a dual approach that the UNDP is confident can be replicated across the country.”

By Samantha Guthrie

Image source: UNDP

15 July 2019 18:07