The Food Basket
The Food Basket
The government announced that 2015 would be the Year of Agriculture in Azerbaijan. How important is Shamkir as an agricultural center in Azerbaijan?
Our government has an official program for the development and growth of all regions in Azerbaijan, and Shamkir is part of this program. Shamkir is one of the top regions for agricultural production because it is exceptionally fertile. The climate is ideal for different kinds of fruit and vegetables, and half of the 3,000 ha of agriculturally fertile land in Azerbaijan is located in Shamkir. We supply 50% of the vegetables sold in Azerbaijani markets. We export fruit and vegetables as well, mainly to Russia, where our produce is highly valued. About 10% of the Azerbaijani population is involved in the agricultural sector.
Over the past two years, there have been some major projects initiated in Shamkir, such as the Agro Park. How important are these recent projects for Shamkir's development?
The Agro Park is one of our major investments. The whole process is taken care of at the Agro Park, from production to storage to delivery, and it serves as a training and educational center as well. Based on targets the President has set for the project, we are working to ensure that Agro Park is socially beneficial, will help businesses develop commercially, and will develop in the future. If Agro Park is successful, it can become a pilot project upon which other Agro Parks can be planned and built in other regions. The water reservoir project is one of the largest projects ever initiated in Azerbaijan. It is a $1 billion project, and would actually be better considered as the second stage of a major development project throughout the region. Without the water reservoir, the Agro Park would not have been possible. The reservoir will irrigate an area of 30,000ha, and another 70,000ha area will also be open to professional and systematic watering, whereas before it was only managed and done seasonally. For all these projects, we have done our research and learned from the experience of various European countries that have undertaken projects similar to ours. We have consulted the experts and directors of those large projects, which has helped us to plan and implement these major plans in Shamkir.
How can Shamkir support and develop SMEs in the future?
At the moment, the government provides long-term credit to develop agriculture using non-banking credit institutions. All people who want to develop businesses create and distribute their business plans to the Ministry of Economy and Industry. When business plans arrive to the central ministry building, a foundation approves them and then long-term credit is offered. This process moves from preparing the business plan to then presenting it to the main ministerial building in Baku. All of this process can be practical and quickly implemented if the plan is profitable, if the result can be taken, and it is a good idea. There is no rejection, and it will not be blocked in any way if it is profitable. We are making the process faster and removing any delays. The main aim is to develop the smallest part of business because the government is already engaged with the largest. In order that there are no breaks in the chains, we are developing autonomous authorities. It is a great pleasure for me to be involved in this segment. In 2015, we are on track to start some larger projects with the assistance of the government.
Our region is ideal for tourism because we can offer many natural riches and resources. We have a wonderful climate and beautiful mountains and valleys. We have various plans and programs to attract more tourists, especially from Europe. We are especially interested in developing eco-tourism. There is a lot of potential for increasing tourism in Shamkir, and it is an important sector in our economy.
There are some major events about to be held in Azerbaijan, such as the European Games, the Formula One race, the Islamic Solidarity Games, and others. How will these events affect and benefit Shamkir?
There is no doubt that these events will be a major contribution to the country, and the Shamkir region wants to be involved however we can. In 2014, we were involved in a number of large successful events, such as the Shamkir Chess Championships, which will be held again this year, as well as the 2014 Lithuanian-Azerbaijani Business Forum. Our region was also included in the international Tour De Azerbaijan cycling event. We want to hold more international forums, meetings, and conferences in Shamkir. The central government sees the importance of our region and is actively trying to include Shamkir in many major projects and events.
What are your expectations for the development of Shamkir in 2015?
Agriculture is the priority. In 2014, we implemented a new management system that gave more power to the local political structures and provinces. The local authorities can now undertake their own projects and manage them with a certain degree of autonomy. This devolution of political management was modeled after European practices, with the aim of supporting entrepreneurship, innovation, and development on a local level. This has translated into many profitable and useful agricultural projects in the region and has had direct impacts on the well-being of the country. Local producers can pool their resources, cooperate more effectively, and increase synergy between producers and markets. Other major projects at local municipal levels involve the breeding of livestock, such as sheep and deer. We have used our own rich livestock resources, in addition to animals brought in from different regions, such as deer from the Altay region of Russia. All production in all sectors is abiding by the highest international standards and is in accordance with professional management systems. The Shamkir region is a focal point for the central government now because if we are successful, there will be a push for similar successes to be achieved in other regions of Azerbaijan.