Two Georgian Dream lawmakers have initiated a bill proposing to suspend selling of agricultural land to foreign citizens till January 1, 2017.
The bill is sponsored by chairman of parliamentary committee for agricultural issues Gigla Agulashvili of the Republican Party and MP Zurab Tkemaladze of the Industrialist Party.
The draft amendment to the law on ownership of agricultural land offers to suspend till 2017 a clause, which allows ownership of the agricultural land by foreign citizens.
According to the bill the suspension should not apply to those agricultural land plots, which are already under the ownership of foreign citizens.
If approved, the bill will instruct the government to improve the land registry and elaborate within six months “unified state policy on rational use and protection of the land resources.”
If approved, the bill will halt the trend of increased interest in investing in Georgia’s agricultural opportunities, seen since 2012 mostly from Indian farmers. Attracted by inexpensive and fertile land, as well as by lack of red tape, over 2,000 Indian farmers, mainly from the state of Punjab, have reportedly immigrated to Georgia over the past one year after buying agricultural land plots in the country, mainly in its eastern parts.
Explanatory note, accompanying the bill, reads: “As of today there is a real threat of irrational privatization of land, which may have a negative consequence on country’s economic security, environmental protection and state security and it may also significantly damage local rural population.”
Georgia’s rural population is 46.8%; agriculture’s contribution to country’s GDP is below 10%.
A recent EU-funded report, assessing Georgia’s agriculture sector, says that country’s capacity of agriculture and rural economy stakeholders is weak and output “extremely low.”
“The failure of Georgian agriculture to modernize is one of the root causes for the persistence of high poverty levels in the country. The total area planted has been reduced by 43% and average production per hectare has diminished. Agriculture remains an important, albeit declining sector in terms of GDP contribution… Of those classified as employed in the sector 95% are 'small farmers', typically with around 1.2 hectares and 2 cows per family, classified as subsistence or semi-subsistence,” according to the report.
In 2013 EU launched EUR 40 million three-year European Neighbourhood Program for Agriculture and Rural Development (ENPARD) aimed at boosting the production of food in Georgia and reducing rural poverty.