On a sunny spring day in May 2013, thousands of Georgians converged in Zugdidi, a city in western Georgia, for a landmark event. They came from all over the country to taste strawberries in every form imaginable — as juice, cake, cookies, and by the basketful. In addition to indulging in delicious food, the 5,000 visitors enjoyed dance performances and art exhibits. By the time the event wrapped up, one thing was clear: The First Annual Strawberry Festival in Georgia was a resounding success.
Members of the Berry and Fruit Cultures Development Association, the Georgian organization that coordinated the festival, were taken aback by the event’s popularity. Nana Pipia, a farmer from the village of Chkhoria who heads the association, said, “When I first tried my hand at growing strawberry varieties introduced by USAID, I could hardly imagine that one day I would be heading a (farmers) association and hosting the First Annual Strawberry Festival in Samegrelo.”
It’s not difficult to understand Nana’s surprise. Only eight months earlier, in September 2012, USAID and Chemonics began collaborating with local farmers to bring new varieties of strawberry plants to Georgia. These efforts were part of the New Economic Opportunities Initiative, which began in 2011.