Georgia: Focus on Friends of the Earth Georgia
Interview with George Magradze, International gmo campaign coordinator
I’m a 30 year old biologist-ecologist, and joined of FoE-Georgia in 1994, when I was 21. At that time I was finishing my university study and was looking for an organization working on environmental issues. I wanted to be involved in something useful and to work for something in which I believe.
I began as a volunteer working on a broad range of issues such as:
- tree planting,
- protest actions,
Later I was a campaigner for the GMO program of FoE-Georgia. Now I’m the coordinator of this campaign and board member of the organization. My education in biology and ecology is very useful in my everyday activities, enabling me to understand the basics of any problem and to deal with it more thoroughly, in order to achieve better results.
I get very frustrated how myopic (narrow-minded) people’s attitude towards nature can be, how easily and quickly they are destroying it, obviously not thinking that they are cutting down the branch on which they are sitting.
But at the same time I’m very inspired how little is necessary to allow nature to recover, how pleasurable it is to live in peace and understanding with nature. And what especially inspires me is that “loving nature” can be very inspiring. I see this every time in the eyes of those children who we meet during eco-education events. And this gives me the hope, this gives me the belief that life continues and that we are not lost, that our efforts to protect nature are worth continuing.
About the organization
The Greens Movement of Georgia / Friends of the Earth - Georgia is an organization aiming to protect the environment, human and ethno-cultural surroundings according to the principles of sustainable development; to end the technocratic and utilitarian treatment attitude towards nature; to establish ecologically safe technologies; to build solidarity and peace between people, and in particular to build an ecologically and socially sustainable society.
We are a democratic non-profit grassroots organization that deals with a broad range of environmental issues. Our organization implements its mission through campaigns and practical activities, public information and involvement, policy making and lobbying.
Established in 1988, the Greens Movement of Georgia is one of the largest and oldest environmental organizations in Georgia. It has 46 local groups throughout the country and more then 3000 members. In 1991 The Greens Movement of Georgia became a member of Friends of the Earth International.
FoE-Georgia successfully collaborates with local and foreign partners. For example:
- We have successful experience in the interruption of the construction of huge hydro power station dams in the mountains.
- In 1995 FoE-Georgia succeeded in its efforts to add 3 very important paragraphs in the article 37 of the new Constitution of Georgia.
- Our activities are based on the voluntary work of 20-25 people and 9 staff.
- The main decision making body is the board of 7 people.
- The Ecological Association (Council of Experts) of the Greens Movement of Georgia, which brings together the leading scientists and specialists of Georgia, is the main advisory structure in the organization.
The current activities of FoE-Georgia are divided into following programs:
- Environmental education;
- GMO and clean food;
- Energy efficiency;
- Waste reduction;
- Black Sea and wetland protection;
- Forest campaign;
- Climate change;
- WTO and globalization;
- Public participation and implementation of the Aarhus Convention.
One of our priority campaigns is the GMO campaign, which we have been running since 1996, when Monsanto’s Bt-Potato was first imported and cultivated in Georgia. We organized a seminar in the Georgian Parliament, resulting in the Parliamentary ban on further import and cultivation of GM potato in Georgia.
The main focus of GMO team now is:
- conducting research to find out whether GM cultures and products are present in Georgia,
- raising awareness among the population
- participation in legislative work and lobbying activities.
For the last three years we have been conducting a company research campaign that aims to collect information from the main importers and producers of food products regarding their policy on GMOs. In addition, we are conducting market research, and where possible, doing test analysis on seed samples. Due to lack of finances these activities have many shortcomings, though the information collected is almost the only data regarding current state of art in the field of GMOs, and was used by the Ministry of Environment for the creation of national biosafety legislation.
In 2002 we conducted a study of maize and soya grown in West Georgia. The test analysis was done for few samples of seeds taken during a tour of villages. The project was very good tool for awareness raising of farmers and peasants and allowed us to identify some active local groups that now serve as partners in our activities.
In October 2002 we organized the successful Trolley Action, in parallel to FoEE’s Brussels action. During the action we delivered a petition to a representative of the European Commission. The action had very good media coverage and spurred in depth discussions on television.
Awareness raising is an important part of our work on GMOs. While in the beginning only a few specialists were aware of these issues, due to our permanent information and media activities the public is now well-informed on GMOs. Media interest is also increasing; new information is requested every day. Last year we published 2 brochures and several booklets on GMOs that were distributed at different events. But we think that much more has to be done: we still don’t have a clear picture what is being imported, cultivated and produced in Georgia; the country still does not have proper legislation in this area; the population is not aware about all aspects of the issue etc.
We are actively involved in FoEE’s Bite-Back campaign on the GMO trade war between the US and EU. During the course of this campaign we plan to organize several street actions and collect the signatures for the citizens’ objection to the WTO. We’d like to use this campaign for awareness raising purposes as well.