EPI Investment Case Studies: Competitiveness of Georgian Agriculture – Landmark and Foodland

Jagpal Singh is a Canadian national, born and raised in Punjab State of India. Having taken interest in Ayurvedic medicine, Mr. Singh investigated growing medicinal herbs in Georgia, noting that much of the country’s climate was similar to Himachel Pradesh state in India. Operating in Georgia since 2009, Mr. Singh currently owns an Ayurvedic medicine store in Tbilisi and a number of businesses which seek to identify export commodities that can be grown cost-effectively in Georgia, to produce them on his own properties, and/or to contract Georgian farmers to grow them using the same technology.

In 2010, Mr. Singh registered Foodland Ltd. as his own landholding and agricultural production company in Shida Kartli, to farm licorice and other herbs. In 2012 he established Landmark Ltd. in Tsalka district, Kvemo Kartli. In the same year, encouraged by the Georgian National Investment Agency, Mr. Singh created Agricultural Investment and Development of Georgia LTD as a consulting firm servicing Indian investors in Georgian farmland.

At present, Foodland’s properties in Shida Kartli (a total of 95ha) are occupied by squatters. Landmark Ltd is currently engaging in trials of novel crops in Tsalka, and is yet to yet to turn a profit.

On the one hand, this case demonstrates the critical role of foreign investors in developing potentially lucrative production and processing of non-traditional crops such as Ayurvedic herbs. Mr. Singh’s concept of providing canola seed, lentil seed and training to farmers, and buying back the crop at harvest, is an interesting one with potential benefits for local farmers, improved national food security and enhanced exports. As Georgia’s oilseed production is negligible, with only one sunflower seed crushing plant in Kakheti and one soybean crushing plant in Poti, and no crush for canola or any other oilseed, innovative programs like those represented by Landmark Ltd in Tsalka could reduce Georgia’s reliance on imported staples like oil.

But the conflict surrounding Foodland Ltd activities has also attracted significant media attention and has done a great deal to impair investor confidence in the Georgian agricultural sector.

The lessons learned and recommendations related to this case fall into two categories: those concerning national and local government on the one hand and those concerning foreign investors on the other. We recommend that government maintain consistent and transparent long-term policies on foreign ownership of farmland and immigration, improve communications with the private sector regarding farm investment, improve co-ordination between national, regional and local governments regarding farmland privatization, establish guidelines for compensation of displaced grazers from public funds, disperse tax revenues generated in rural districts from commercial enterprises to local jurisdictions rather than remitting all taxes to national government, and to strengthen investor aftercare and supporting services.

Investors should take care to integrate Georgians into their permanent workforce, consider measured and culturally sensitive responses to conflict, to engage the local community before commencing operations, to manage the risks of theft prudently, and to fence their properties.