March 9, 2017 – This post is a contribution to our week-long blog series highlighting some of the incredible women that we work with across the world.
Situated at the crossroads between Europe and Asia, Georgia is a country where agriculture is deeply embedded in the history and culture of its people. Agriculture continues to be one of the country’s most productive economic activities today.
CNFA implements the USAID-funded Restoring Efficiency to Agriculture Production (REAP) program in Georgia, which has increased income and employment in rural areas by delivering firm-level investment and technical assistance to Georgian agribusinesses. On a practical level, this means increasing private investment and commercial finance to agribusinesses in Georgia, mitigating risks for these businesses, upgrading farmers’ agricultural and technical skills so that they can thrive, and linking entrepreneurs to service providers, producers, and processors.
A significant aspect of REAP is to cultivate entrepreneurship amongst women as drivers of agricultural development. Engagement in entrepreneurship activities still remains beyond reach for many Georgian women, who face mobility and time constraints due to their reproductive, community management, and social roles. REAP therefore takes a gender-sensitive approach to all of its activities, tailoring teaching styles to the needs of women entrepreneurs in the facilitation of education and training components. These methods usually consist of short sessions or modules throughout the year that blend theory, business simulations, case studies, practical work, homework assignments, individual or group consulting and executive coaching, discussions, debates, demonstration visits, and peer-to-peer (P2P) mentoring, and are respectful of the demands and seasonality of agriculture and its concomitant time constraints.
One specific initiative for advancing gender-sensitive agriculture within the program is the Gender-Equitable Agricultural Development Strategic Platform, which was launched in 2015. Serving as an effective instrument for dialogue, networking, and interventions on engendering the agribusiness, as well as for the promotion of profiles of women agriculture entrepreneurs, young agriculture entrepreneurs, and gender-sensitive or gender-equitable agribusinesses, membership is comprised of both small-scale to medium-scale women-owned agribusiness enterprises, as well as women and young agricultural entrepreneurs who are planning to launch new agribusinesses in the future.
One such entrepreneur is Sophia Jikia, who successfully founded Chirifruit Ltd. two years ago and has been making strides in the development of her agribusiness with the assistance of REAP’s Gender-Equitable Agricultural Development Strategic Platform and other mechanisms. This is her story.
SPOTLIGHT ON SUCCESS: A FRUITFUL VENTURE
Sopho Jikia, founder of Chirifruit Ltd., a member of REAP’s Gender-Equitable Agricultural Development Strategic Platform
Sopho Jikia is the mother of four children but also the parent of a fruit-drying agribusiness in Georgia known as Chirifruit Ltd., which she founded two years ago. Since the inception of the business, Chirifruit Ltd. has been a family enterprise with Sopho’s father, mother, and sisters all playing their own roles in getting the company set on its own two feet, and then running. Sopho’s father, an innovative farmer from West Georgia, built the fruit drying equipment, and then her mother and three sisters began producing dried and candied fruits. Since that time, Chirifruit has expanded considerably and now offers customers various kinds of innovative products such as dried fruits combined with chocolate, coconut, walnuts, and almonds.
Sopho’s motivation for starting her business was to achieve financial security so that she could provide her children with a better future. More than just financial security, Sopho’s enterprise now provides her family with a place to apply its creativity, taking on new ideas and diversifying the production of dried fruit with new tastes, recipes, designs, and packaging. These creative features now distinguish Chirifruit in the market.
Checking the humidity level of at the industrial fruit drying facility of Chirifruit Ltd.
Photo Credit: Nukri Mandzulashvili/REAP
To continue driving the growth of the enterprise, Chirifruit actively participates in the Restoring Efficiency to Agriculture Production (REAP) program. In doing so, Chirifruit benefits from technical assistance in different areas including the production process, business management, food safety, marketing, and finance. Chirifruit has improved immensely from its involvement with REAP, and the deal was literally and figuratively sweetened even more when the company received a micro-grant from the British charity organization known as HERA to purchase equipment for chocolate tempering and melting. The equipment has allowed Chirifruit to process chocolate-covered dry fruit according to modern standards.
In addition to technical assistance, as a member of the Gender-Equitable Agricultural Development Strategic Platform and its network, Chirifruit has also gained access to a new market which now accounts for 15% of the company’s wholesales.
Sopho Jikia and family proudly present their packaging options for Chirifruit. The family-owned start-up unites three generations: Sopho’s grandma, Sopho’s sisters, and the future—11 grandchildren.
Photo credit: Nukri Mandzulashvili/REAP
As Sopho herself explains, “When we started out our family company, we knew little, or even nothing, about business. Knowledge is an intangible asset that we continually receive from REAP. This project has contributed greatly to the growth of our business and to our increased sales. Technical assistance helps us to plan and lead our business in the right direction and show the important aspects to focus on. The consultations take place in our company and are oriented on direct results and meeting the practical needs. With REAP’s help, I look at the importance of technological development from a different point of view as it is vital for the proper establishment on the market. We are thankful to REAP for having our sales increased 10 times in comparison with last year and for having the opportunity for development.”
The company’s start-up investment was GEL 6,000 (about $2,450), and its annual net income is now GEL 7,000 (about $2,857). Like the fruit it sells, Chirifruit is ripe for expansion, and Sopho’s main goal now is to increase Chirifruit’s sales and expand business in the area.
“REAP’s platform unifies women who take pride in [their work] and feel support, and I want to be a part of it as well. I want USAID/REAP to be proud of me, too. We coincide on the aim of going further on the aim of development,” Sophia says.
On this International Women’s Day, REAP is proud to announce that it is very proud of Sopho Jikia and women like her across Georgia who are pursuing their goals and cultivating entrepreneurship in themselves and those around them.