“Just an insect” or “the worst of all pests?” Georgian politics on the stink bug
The European Georgia opposition party has put forward an initiative to renew the fight against a dire situation that has emerged in the country – the devastation being wrought by stink bugs.
Party leader and former Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava stated that the news was announced at a briefing which took place on Monday.
The brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys) was first noted in Georgia in 2015. It feeds on plants, and destroyed the majority of the hazelnut harvest in the west of the country last year. Georgia is one of the top five global hazelnut-exporting countries. The stink bug has caused millions of laris worth of damage.
Apart from hazelnuts the stink bug also harms other agricultural products including corn. Last year the Georgian Facebook community was full of photographs depicting the extent of the damage brought on by the pest.
With the approach of spring and the uptake in agricultural work, the topic of the stink bug has become a pressing issue once again. The opposition has blamed the government for the calamity and demands that they take emergency measures, asserting that the ruling Georgian Dream party does not even know the extent of the problem. One of European Georgia’s leaders, Gigi Ugulava, stated at a briefing that in order to combat the bug on large plots of land manpower is needed, hence the call for an emergency situation to be declared; state resources must be mobilised en masse and volunteers must be found as well. In the worst case scenario the army may have to be called in as well as neighboring countries.
“Because of the stink bug infestation, hazelnut exports suffered 151 million laris in losses. The stink bug destroys corn and other agricultural products as well. In Western Georgia this is an epidemic,” Ugulava stated.
The Minister of Agriculture and Environmental Protection, Levan Davitashvili, has assessed the situation rather differently. He says that this is not the main issue that parliament should be debating and has called on the opposition not to politicize the situation.
“The stink bug is an agricultural pest, it is a normal insect and the uptake in attention being paid to it is not justified. This is a serious challenge for us of course, but it’s not the only one, and it’s by far not the most important,” the minister said.
Davitashvili says that the ministry is ready for 2018 and the upcoming agricultural season.
“All preparations necessary to fortify our phytosanitary capabilities have been conducted. We are ready to be tested,” Davitashvili said.
• According to the national product agency the stink bug caused up to 60 million laris worth of damages in 2016, and in 2017 the damage exceeded 150 million lari.
• Georgia is one of the top five largest exporters of hazelnuts to the European Union, second only to Turkey.
• Ninety percent of Georgian hazelnuts are produced in Western Georgia near Abkhazia in Samegrelo. After the 1990s wars, the hazelnut became one if not the only source of income for the local population. Though this may change soon – last year, the hazelnut harvest was practically half of what it was in 2016.