The research project was carried out within the framework of the EU Neighbourhood Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development (ENPARD Georgia) in cooperation with the coordinator MercyCorps Georgia. It included in particular the activity of expert advice on the possibilities of applying the LEADER approach and sharing the relevant lessons learned from the European LEADER practice of the past decades, support to the preparation of the Local Development Strategy (LES) in the pilot project of Borjomi Municipality (Samtskhe-Javakheti region) and the preparation of a Replication Strategy and internal project evaluation work at the end of this EU project. The project builds on the experience of the knowledge of the institutional conditions and requirements of cooperation in Georgia, which were elaborated on the occasion of the expert activities on mountain area development and conception of the mountain area law during the consultation of the Ministry of Regional Development and Infrastructure (MRDI) in Georgia (cf. final report on project BF 139/14; Dax 2017a).
Objectives and contribution of BABF
Within the framework of the "European Neighbourhood Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development in Georgia" (ENPARD Georgia), the EU Commission has commissioned targeted pilot projects for the implementation of activities of a local development strategy oriented towards the LEADER approach in three municipalities in Georgia (Borjomi, Kazbegi and Lagodekhi). This project aims to apply the bottom-up approach in the municipality of Borjomi (Samtskhe-Javakheti region) (one of the three pilot regions) and, based on the application in the first local development initiatives, to provide basic considerations for the application of this approach in this country. Based on its experience in evaluating the implementation of LEADER in different EU countries, BABF was included in the consortium working on this pilot project.
The aim of BABF's project cooperation was in particular to provide fundamental input in the discussion and development of the project concept, to communicate comparable experiences from LEADER application in Europe, to search for and form the Local Action Group (LAG) in Borjomi, as well as the internal evaluation work of the implementation and the analysis of the potential transferability of the results and experiences to other rural regions in Georgia and beyond (replication strategy). In particular, Austria's mountain area-specific knowledge was used in the application of this programme, methodological expertise was brought in, especially in the LES development, and Austria's experience in LEADER evaluation and implementation (implementation of the Mid-Term Review) was used for the project. The strategy development and thus the structure of the approach to LEADER implementation was largely developed by the BABF, together with the ÖAR (expert Michale Fischer) in multiple workshop loops and was a new, previously unknown opportunity for the stakeholders from the region to contribute their considerations for local initiatives and activities. The accompanying observation of the implementation work was also ensured by the BABF during the further project processing, especially in order to have sufficient material and insight into the implementation available for the final evaluation work. Towards the end of the second year of processing (2017), a replication strategy was drawn up in accordance with the project plan and an internal final evaluation of the work of this pilot project in the first two years of LEADER application was carried out. The replication strategy (Dax 2017b) specifically examined the transferability of the project implementation to other rural areas in Georgia and the intensification of the project implementation. The final evaluation is an internal assessment of the project application and the implementation of the planned works in Borjomi municipality (Dax 2017c), which confirmed in detail the evaluation work of the EU Commission (Wuseni 2017) on this activity or highlighted additional significant aspects. It is complemented by EU assessments of the application of the LEADER method and the effectiveness of the work in the pilot regions.
The project was thus implemented in the period July 2015 to October 2017 with a streamlined timetable for the first application of a local development support programme. Due to the long-term development needs and the 2nd development phase starting in November 2017, the project duration of this 1st phase was extended by two months. This will be followed by a 2nd phase of implementation in Borjomi (and the two other pilot regions in Georgia from the first tender), as well as an extension of the application of the LEADER method to three more municipalities/regions of Georgia (Alkhalkalaki, Dedoplistskaro and Tetritskaro) and two additional ones in the Autonomous Republic of Adjara (Keda and Khulo).
The challenge in applying the pilot activities in three regions of Georgia was to anchor an understanding of the basic conditions and requirements of local development and the possibilities of using the LEADER method in the respective areas in a very short time. The participants were also under pressure to succeed in terms of time, as in addition to the development work and strategic orientation, rapid project implementation was also required in order to be able to transfer experience to other areas of Georgia. These requirements could only be met and lead to the implementation of the planned number of project initiatives due to detailed project planning and adherence to the agreed process steps.
In the first year of the project, the focus was on the elaboration of the Local Development Strategy (LES). The discussions on this and the approach were supported by the international project partners of the LAG Angus Council (Schuttland, UK) and the Federal Institute for Mountain Farming as subcontractor of MercyCorps. The Borjomi LES (Borjomi Local Action Group 2016) thus provides the basis for the implementation of project funding in the 2nd year of the pilot project.
In the pilot region of Borjomi, a total of 171 expressions of interest for local projects were initially submitted through a widely distributed information campaign, of which 107 were invited to submit a full-scale project proposal. From the submitted project proposals, 36 projects were selected, of which 28 projects were able to meet all the requirements for implementation. This number exceeds the target of initiating at least 20 projects with this pilot action.
Key figures of the project implementation show that the focus is on the promotion of "sustainable tourism" (with 10 initiatives) and on "sport and cultural development" (with 12 funded initiatives). The implementation is characterised by the need for substantial co-financing by the project promoters (on average 40%). The funding made it possible to involve an average of 1,300 people per initiative and to create about 15 jobs per initiative (cf. Dax 2017c).
Through its work at the beginning of the project (development of the concept and strategy development) as well as the evaluation of the implementation (Mid-Term Evaluation, Replication Strategy and Final Evaluation), the Federal Institute for Mountain Farming was able to gain insight into the special conditions, difficulties and successes of the implementation. In addition to the project-internal evaluation reports and the analysis of the "transferability" of project experiences to other regional contextual conditions (Dax 2017b), the project experiences were also evaluated with regard to generally valid conclusions for "knowledge transfer". These were summarised in a scientific article (Oedl-Wieser et al. 2017) and in a project presentation on the occasion of the International Mountain Day 2016 (Dax and Oedl-Wieser 2016).
In this context, the mediation processes were highlighted as central project tasks and findings, and the intensive exchange process between experiences from Western European LAGs and LEADER evaluations and the development of local know-how or process management were seen as key to successful implementation. The new regional reflections thus set in motion aim at intensifying processes of "social innovation", which are at the core of the LEADER conception. The particular interest in the application experiences from Austria was also directed at the conditions of applying LEADER in mountain areas and adapting it to the specific regional development opportunities. For Georgia, this example and the comparable contextual conditions represent an important connection opportunity for learning experiences.
The "new approach", as the project was called in its title, actually aimed in the national context of Georgia to popularise participation processes and strategic development patterns at the local level in rural areas of Georgia and thus also to strengthen the desire to expand and intensify this method in the country. This is confirmed by the very committed and successful implementation in the pilot project of the Borjomi region. A large number of local, regional and national meetings on rural development and the exchange of experiences from the pilot actions make the results, discussions and learning processes of this region accessible to other areas of Georgia.
This growing discourse on rural development is also reflected in the continuation of the EU's ENPARD programme (cf. the calls for ENPARD III in April/May 2018). The EU report on the evaluation of pilot projects (ROM report; Wuseni 2017), the report on the replication strategy (Dax 2017b), but also the current discussion on communicating the potential of rural development projects in the country, as well as calls for proposals on the use of "sustainable tourism strategies or organic farming in the mountain area of Georgia" point to important aspects and opportunities in this development phase. The first-time application of LEADER has thus undoubtedly contributed to introducing new points of view and possibilities for action in a future-oriented way.
- Borjomi Local Action Group (2016) Borjomi Local Development Strategy 2016-2019, Borjomi. (elaborated with the support of BABF and ÖAR as well as Angus Council; under the coordination of MercyCorps) www.borjomilag.ge
- Dax, T. (2017a) Abschlussbericht zum Projekt BF 139/14, “Support for development of high mountain development strategy in the Republic of Georgia”, International Expert for the Ministry of Regional Development and Infrastructure-MRDI, commissioned by UNDP Georgia, Wien/Tbilisi.
- Dax, T. (2017b) Project Replication Strategy. A New Approach for Rural Development in Georgia. Version 01.09.2017. Wien: Bundesanstalt für Bergbauernfragen.
- Dax, T. (2017c) Project Final Evaluation. A New Approach for Rural Development in Georgia. Version 02.11.2017. Wien: Bundesanstalt für Bergbauernfragen.
- Dax, T. und Oedl-Wieser, T. (2016) Anwendung des LEADER-Ansatzes im georgischen Berggebiet, Präsentation am 12.12.2016, Internationaler Tag der Berge 2016, Wien: Bundesanstalt für Bergbauernfragen.
- Oedl-Wieser, T., Dax, T. and Fischer, M. (2017) A new approach for participative rural development in Georgia – reflecting transfer of knowledge and enhancing innovation in a non-European Union context, in: Studies in Agricultural Economics 119(1), 48-54. https://doi.org/10.7896/j.1012
- Wuseni, A. (2017) Independent Results-Oriented Monitoring (ROM) report Borjomi, A New Approach for Rural Development in Georgia, Project Reference C-361873, report date 05/05/2017, Tbilisi.