Name: Marco Malatrasi
Current hometown: Colorado
Name of project: Europe, Caucasus, and Central Asia Farmer-to-Farmer
Location of the project: Georgia
Organization that sent the volunteer: ACDI/VOCA
Residing in the eastern region of Georgia, Giorgi Akhalkatsi is a small-scale farmer who produces fresh fruit to sell on the local market. He established his greenhouse in January 2019 with 1500 strawberry plants but soon ran into problems with pest infestation and plant diseases, so he turned to the Farmer-to-Farmer program. Giorgi was looking beyond eliminating pests – he wanted to start a hydroponic system, an innovative technology that had yet to be introduced in Georgia. Hydroponic production can be a lucrative enterprise for Georgian producers. As consumers demand more local produce grown with fewer chemical pesticides and fertilizers, hydroponic production offers a sustainable alternative. It prevents environmental damage and supplies a wide variety of fresh produce year-round.
Volunteer Marco Malatrasi, an experienced agronomist from Colorado, traveled to Georgia in September 2019 to help Giorgi. First, he assessed the immediate problems and provided detailed recommendations on pest and nutrient management. He then provided a comprehensive training on operating a hydroponic system. He explained the benefits and challenges associated with this technology, reviewed the costs of operating a large commercial system, and even constructed a trial system as a pilot!
After hosting the volunteer for just one week, Giorgi Akhalkatsi was able to not only improve his own fruit production, but to become a pioneer of hydroponic strawberry growing in the domestic market. With this new technology, he can grow healthier plants and generate higher yields of marketable fruits.
In addition to addressing the host’s immediate challenges, he introduced an entirely new, profitable, and sustainable technology to transform strawberry production beyond just one farm. He offered an in-depth training and hands-on technical assistance that will help position Giorgi Akhalkatsi at the forefront of hydroponic fruit production in Georgia. As the first farmer to adopt this innovative technology, Giorgi Akhalkatsi can be a model for other Georgian farmers and help to spread his success to the broader agrobusiness community.