For Shota Nozadze growing nut is an all-family business, literally. Every summer, as the nuts ripen and begin to drop, his wife and 11 children join the harvest to rake the fruits up, polish them, and sell them - the money would support the whole family, allowing them to buy clothes, books and other school items for the children. Yet, the 2017 harvest has not been a joyful one. Nozadze’s hazelnuts as well as those of hundreds of producers in Guria and Samegrelo, the regions in western Georgia where nuts are a precious commodity, have been hit by the halyomorpha halys, an insect that has dragged small producers to the ground.
The brown, marmorated stink bug feeds on leaves, fruits and stems from spring to late autumn. In winter they enter the houses or the buildings to keep away from cold. The agricultural pest ruins entire harvests. The stink, which can attack hundreds of fruits and vegetable, is native to Asia and first appeared in Georgia in 2015 - one year later it inflicted significant losses to the various crops. In 2017 the Ministry of Agriculture introduced a GEL 12 million (USD 4.8 million) program to fight the insect. Pesticides can save the harvest, but for the chemical to work, it has to be applied when the stinkbug is in the nymph phase (immature stage) and also before the plant produces the fruit.
In Machkhvareti, Nozadze’s village in Guria, most farmers claimed they applied the relevant pesticides after the nut trees yielded the fruit, hence the harvest could not be saved.
“Many of us did not use the pesticides earlier because we believed they could harm animals, bees, birds as well as people," explains Nozadze whose plantation has been totally destroyed by the bug.
However specialists stated that if specific precautions are followed, the chemicals are not harmful, showing that disinformation is one of the causes for the low yields. Local authorities lament lack of experience in how to fight the disease compared to other countries which have been battling it for years. On September 13, 2017 the Georgian government announced it will use airplanes to spread pesticides in order to stop the spread of the bug and assured the local population that it would not affect people’s health.
Yet, for producers like Nozadze, a year of hard work dissolved and his family is now facing the challenge of how to sustain itself in the coming months.