Even to-day the land of Georgia is cultivated in the most primitive fashion. There, as elsewhere, feudal dependence and the prevalence of short leases impeded the development of agriculture. The implements of Georgian agriculture reminded German observers, only a short time ago, of Biblical times.
In 1905, Paul Hoffmann wrote, in his book on German Colonies in Transcaucasia, as follows:
“Only in recent times have modern ploughs been widely used in Transcaucasia, and the colonists are still partly assisted by the wooden ploughs of the Georgians.“
If this is the case with the German colonists, who represent a higher type of agriculture, it applies still more to the Georgian peasants themselves. The plough does not penetrate the soil very deep, and requires an uncommonly strong team, five to ten pairs of buffaloes. Merzbacher saw ploughs drawn by twenty-four animals, which needed seven men to guide them. What an expenditure of energy to secure a scanty result. Thrashing is managed with a thrashing sledge, provided with a flint, which appeared to Merzbacher to be a relic of the stone age.
The methods of soil cultivation are as primitive as the implements used. Rotation of crops and artificial manuring are quite unknown. The tillage resembles the system which existed in Germany at the time of Charles the Great. The same crop, whether wheat or barley, is planted year in and year out in the same field, sometimes three years in succession, until the harvest decreases. Grass is then allowed to grow, and the soil is used as pasture, again for several years in succession, when it is sown once more with crops.
The cattle which is put on the pastures is small and insignificant, at least the horned cattle. The absence of the cultivation of fodder is not only prejudicial to the raising of cattle and to agriculture, but also to afforestation. The sheep and goats ruin the woods, and destroy every after-growth of trees, especially in the eastern and dry regions. We have spoken above of the boundless riches of Georgia in wood, but these are very unevenly distributed. Wood is to be found in the districts of the Black Sea, and in the hardly-accessible and sparsely populated districts of the Caucasus. The drier and more populous districts are in many cases completely woodless.
Thus, for example, not a single tree is to be found on the whole range of mountains which surrounds Tiflis. Nor is there any trace of soil tillage in these desert places, which scarcely yields sustenance for goats.
The growing destruction of the woods increases the dryness of the climate, and therefore the danger of harvest failures. In former times this danger was averted by great irrigation works. As in so many other countries of the East, Egypt, Mesopotamia and Central Asia, there were great territories in Georgia which, with the aid of artificial irrigation gave the richest harvests, without which they would have remained sterile. The laying out of irrigation canals was an important task of the old Oriental Governments.
Since that time these territories have passed under the sway of rulers who sprang from the nomad peoples of the Steppes, and who had no understanding of the importance of such works. They exhausted all the energies of their lands in warlike undertakings. In the course of recent centuries the irrigation works in these countries haves everywhere fallen into decay, and consequently prosperity and civilisation have shrunk.
In the Thirteenth Century the population of Transcaucasia was estimated to be sixteen millions. To-day it amounts to hardly one-third of this number.
But even this third does not find sufficient support in its own country. Georgia required constant imports of corn, which it could easily receive from neighbouring South Russia. These imports were paid for with tobacco and wine, which are produced in abundance in Georgia. The Russian Government encouraged this commerce, which was to the interest of the great wheat growers, who found in Georgia a market close at hand for their surplus corn, and received cheap wine and tobacco in exchange. If not for the cultivation of wheat, the Russian Government has done much to promote the culture of the vine in Georgia, and, in addition, has aided the production of tea. The vine, tea, olives, and almonds are in many parts carefully cultivated. The remarks upon the backwardness of agriculture do not apply to these crops. Nevertheless, owing to the primitive character of its agriculture, an agrarian country like Georgia was not a little dependent upon a foreign market for its sustenance.
War and revolution would, therefore, menace the country in the extreme. Bolshevism has cut off Georgia from the corn granaries of South Russia, and deprived the country of the markets for its surplus products. At the same time the aftermath of the war has rendered it extremely difficult for Georgia to find new markets in Western Europe, and fresh corn providers in America and Australia. This explains the food difficulties which we find in a country so richly dowered by nature, and in which over eighty per cent of the population live by agriculture.
In addition to the backwardness of the mode of production, another circumstance contributed to diminish the yield of agriculture, by decreasing the amount of labour power which was engaged in it.
This factor is malaria, which in the most fruitful districts is a scourge to the country, and paralyses the strength and energy of numerous inhabitants during the best years of their lives. If the dryness necessitates great irrigation works, in order to increase the fertility of the country, malaria, on the other hand, is best grappled with by draining the swamps which occupy wide stretches of land, especially about the Black Sea. The overcoming of malaria would not merely raise the labour power of the inhabitants, but would also rescue new land for cultivation. Both irrigation and draining works were equally neglected by the Russian Government.
Last updated on 28.2.2017