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DIGITALIZING COWS IN GEORGIA…

How women veterinarians are bolstering traceability and food safety in Georgia

In February, when the streets of Sachkhere, Georgia are covered with snow and temperatures reach -2 degrees Celsius outside, 39-year-old Shorena Jambazishvili collects her plastic gloves, new syringes, some medicines and a smartphone and makes her way to the farm.

It’s early morning, and it is time for the first round of vaccinations. Shorena, as a veterinary technician, works alongside the veterinarian to vaccinate all the cows in the municipality and then digitalize the information.

In the team of two, she is responsible for inputting all data into Georgia’s online National Animal Identification and Traceability System (NAITS), which has revolutionized the country’s animal traceability scheme in the past five years. Implemented by the Government of Georgia, with the technical assistance of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), NAITS records the data of all livestock that must be registered by law, their keepers and keeping locations.

Tracing animals and animal-origin products in a prompt and timely manner through NAITS is an integral part of the food safety chain. By registering and verifying the origin and health of the animals at every step of the value chain, NAITS ensures the delivery of safe food from farm to table. 

Birth, origin, vaccination status, health condition and even colour of the animals are now easily searchable online. The information helps buyers to make informed and healthy choices when selecting meat and other animal-origin products. For example, customers can find QR codes on the product that link to NAITS where they can look up the origin, age and other basic information related to the product they are about to buy.

Currently, NAITS holds information about more than one million bovines, thanks in large part to the veterinarians and technicians who are the pillars of the project, working in the field to collect and record the data.  

“When it’s the vaccinating season, you can’t miss the day and dose, so we go to the farms every day early in the mornings and late in the evenings,” says Shorena.

With a syringe in one hand and a smartphone in another, she walks across the queue of a few hundred cows, some of which greet her, mooing, while others clumsily rub their foreheads against the wooden fence to scratch their giant heads.

She chooses the bovine ready for the vaccine and smiles saying, “My family members find it difficult to have me out of the home so often, however… because they are not used to it.’’

Women veterinary technicians vaccinate the animals and digitalize the information as part of Georgia’s traceability system, NAITS, implemented with the help of FAO. ©FAO/David Khelashvili

A new profession

It was three years ago when Shorena decided to change her everyday routine of working as a housewife and learn a new profession. She decided to take courses to become a certified veterinary technician.

Shorena and her husband, Arsen, who is also a veterinarian, have two children: Otar, 15 and Mariam, 13. Shorena recalls that some changes in the family’s routines were challenging for Otar and Mariam because they were used to having their mother around all the time. However, her new job promised them other benefits.

“Of course, it has improved my financial situation,” Shorena explained, adding, “But even more importantly, I learn from this experience. Every day I explore something new. I educate myself in veterinary science, in various illnesses of the animals, and it keeps me growing.’’

“The more education a woman gets, the more independent she is… Independence is crucial,” she states.

What’s more, this new education was also fun. Shorena and her colleagues particularly enjoyed working with technologies, such as computers, tablets and smartphones.

“We collect and digitalize information including identification number of the bovine owners, the name of the farm and other information – we fill in the data through the cows’ tag numbers. Then we add the information about vaccines,’’ Shorena explains excitedly and highlights that the technological part of her job has been especially interesting.

This opportunity was also transformative for Shorena’s colleague, Tea Kvatadze, another woman veterinary technician in Sachkhere:

“Dealing with new technologies was easy for us, and … brought us professional development. They [the new technologies] make our job look to the future, compared to the times when we had been doing the same with papers,’’ Tea said, adding, “It has changed my life. The job is more enjoyable when you love what you do.’’

In 2022, 10 798 livestock were recorded in the municipality of Sachkhere with help of Shorena, Tea and their colleagues. Marina Macharashvili, Regional Senior Inspector at the National Food Agency in Imereti, western Georgia, stated, “They work very actively; it is hard work I don’t want to sound biased; however, I want to mention that the women were particularly fast to learn the computer, to surf through the NAITS with smartphones.’’

Three years ago, Shorena Jambazishvili became a veterinary technician and wholeheartedly believes that the more education a woman gets, the more independent she is. ©FAO/David Khelashvili

The National Traceability System

Local farmer, Ramaz Mghebrishvili, who runs a big farm of more than hundred cows, underlines how the veterinarians and technicians behind NAITS have made farmers’ lives easier: 

“I am thankful the veterinarians and technicians are by our side when needed… Now it is not a big deal if you lose the cow in the mountains because you know the tag number and you can find them easily,’’ Ramaz said.

With the support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and the Austrian Development Cooperation, FAO and Georgia’s National Food Agency implemented this traceability project, making Georgia the first country in the region to introduce an animal identification and registration system.

Several states, including North Macedonia, Albania, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and countries in the Caribbean, have expressed interest in sharing the electronic system or system development experiences. Spreading NAITS best practices and sharing experiences will be beneficial both for Georgia and the countries now implementing animal registration systems.

In the meantime, the women veterinarians diligently do their jobs with dedication and passion, ensuring that, in the end, customers can make informed choices and that animal-origin food is safer for all.  

www.fao.org

About İsmail Uğural

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