Irina Vasilyeva has been chosen as one of 17 Food Heroes by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Agency (FAO), as an example of how access to technical knowledge and innovation can empower smallholder farmers to become agents of change.
Food Heroes are recognized for their commitment to provide food for their communities and beyond.
She spoke to the UN ahead of World Food Day, marked annually on 16 October.
“My name is Irina Vasilyeva, and I live in the ancient village of Vartsikhe, Bagdati municipality in western Georgia. This is an agricultural community and families here have been involved in farming for centuries.
My husband and two children have also managed to earn a livelihood from agriculture, however as COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on tourism and restaurant businesses increased last year, I struggled in vain to sell my produce at a market in Kutaisi, the main city in western Georgia.
Fortunately, our situation has improved thanks to the support of FAO and the European Union which brought new Farmer Field Schools and demonstration plots to the region and specifically to my village, which highlight innovative farming methods.
I heard that FAO agronomists were visiting a seedling production facility nearby, so I attended the meeting and showed them my farm records. I always record what I do on my land and I told them that I wanted to learn how to improve the quality of my crops.
I learnt that modern agricultural practices, including drip irrigation, mulching and beds formation, could greatly improve the production of cucumbers, tomatoes and salad herbs in my three greenhouses.
I didn’t know my plants were using so much fertilizer. With drip irrigation and better calculations, I use less now. It’s a serious cost saving measure.
Costs are crucial, especially for female farmers in Georgia, who, like me, want to establish an independent source of income.
Working with FAO has also taught me there is nothing in agriculture that a man can do, and a woman can’t.
Now, I can produce lettuce in winter without greenhouse heating. This off-season production allows me to avoid competition with other farmers. And the high-quality produce that I am now growing along with reduced costs has helped me to overcome the economic hardships of the pandemic.
More local women in my village are now moving into agriculture to supplement family income.
As a food hero, I am happy to share my knowledge and experience and for my farm to be used as a model for agricultural training”.