Cultivating Success: Switzerland's Support for Vocational Education in Georgia's Agricultural Sector

Article, 02.07.2024

Georgia boasts centuries-old agricultural traditions, but it is currently experiencing a shortage of modern approaches, technology, and a young workforce. The active participation of educated youth is important to infuse innovation and new skills into agricultural practices. Moreover, engaging young people in agricultural activities is crucial for retaining them in rural areas. Switzerland has been supporting modernization of vocational education and training in agriculture since 2013, recognizing it as a key element for sustainable development in the Georgia’s regions. In 2023, seven graduates finished the Swiss Agricultural School Caucasus equipped with knowledge and skills to be successful in their future endeavours.

Sandro holds cheese in his hands
Sandro Didebashvili (left) presents the Swiss cheese produced by SASC students at the agri-fair ©Embassy of Switzerland in Georgia

Part 2. Sandro Didebashvili

Despite Georgia's longstanding agricultural heritage and inherent potential, rapid industrialization in cities drew populations away from rural areas. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, limited agricultural activity coupled with economic hardship made villages even less appealing, prompting mass migration to urban areas. However, over the past decade, there has been a notable reversal, with more young people like Sandro Didebashvili showing interest in farming and/or living in villages. This trend is strongly supported by increasing business investments in Georgia's agricultural sector, particularly in regions like Kakheti and Guria.

Sandro is one of the first graduates from the Swiss Agriculture School Caucasus (SASC). Born in the capital city of Tbilisi, he had little exposure to rural areas and the agricultural sector. Like many of his peers, he pursued higher studies at Tbilisi State University, specializing in economics. Ambitious and determined to succeed, he quickly realized the vast potential of agriculture in Georgia and decided to focus on it.

"I shifted course because I recognized the immense opportunities for agricultural development in our country. My decision to pursue agriculture coincided with the establishment of the Swiss Agricultural School in Georgia. Following my instincts, I enrolled at SASC. Thankfully, my intuition served me well, and in many ways,” Sandro notes. “While I knew I wanted to study agriculture, I was unsure about the specific path to take until I had a conversation with a Swiss professor and a school administration during my interview. After listening attentively to my aspirations, they suggested that I focus on technology and processing within the agricultural sector. This guidance provided me with clarity and direction as I began my studies at SASC,” he adds.

Studying at SASC was instrumental in helping Sandro discover his passion and lay the foundation for his business venture. Equipped with a clear vision of his goals, he knew precisely what he aimed to achieve and what products he wanted to develop.

"At SASC, I learned a fascinating fact: 90% of the by-product from milk processing is whey," Sandro shares. Determined to find out more, he surfed the internet and revealed that whey is widely used in soft drinks in many countries—an idea he found both innovative and promising for the Georgian market. In addition, he sought some guidance from his professors at SASC. The professors provided Sandro with valuable information. With a new business plan in mind, he turned to Mikho Svimonishvili, one of the founders of the SASC, who gave him an idea to try using whey in cosmetics and even pledged some financial support for Sandro's startup venture.  

Before diving into his business, Sandro embarked on a 12-day trip to Austria aiming to gain firsthand knowledge and test the whey provided by SASC in local factories. The whey proved to be of high quality.

Sandro strongly believes that the key to success lies in changing the behaviour of Georgian farmers, and that having more young, motivated people involved in agriculture will guarantee this change.

“During a week-long visit to Plantahof, and agricultural school in Switzerland, where I explored various farms, I was deeply impressed by the dedication, work ethic, and passion of local farmers. In Switzerland, farmers take great pride in their profession, whereas in Georgia, farmers often consider themselves agricultural labourers. However, I'm confident this perception will change soon, especially as more young people, myself included, become drawn to agriculture,” says Sando.

Looking ahead, Sandro plans to start and further expand his business in cosmetics and involving other college graduates in his venture. He plans to partner with SASC and attract other donors ready to invest in niche products.

As noted above, Sandro is one of the seven young graduates who completed dual vocational education of Swiss standard. Sandro had the opportunity to gain both theoretical and practical knowledge in Georgia and Switzerland. His future has been largely shaped by the knowledge he acquired and the guidance he received, coupled with his passion to bring innovation to Georgia.

The Swiss Agricultural School which is co-financed under the SDC’s “Modernizing Vocational Education and Training System” project aims to create opportunities for rural farmers and dairy processors to improve their employment and productivity by providing high-quality programs in agriculture.