Abkhazians - Economy

Classical authors describe an economy divided between animal husbandry and household craftwork. Maize, millet, and tobacco were the important crops until the Revolution, after which tea and citrus plantations were greatly expanded; today tobacco is the leading crop, but fowl breeding, fish farming, beekeeping, and viticulture and wine making are also all significant. Only about 6 percent of the land is available for agriculture—60 percent of the country is wooded and about 13 percent is used for pasture. Cattle breeding is important, but animal husbandry does not suffice to supply local demands. (Meat is not an essential part of the daily diet in any case.) The staple foods are bread and maize meal or millet mush, often with cheese cooked into them; these foods are accompanied by yogurt, more cheese, and special spice blends, especially a very hot blend called ajek'a. Fruits and vegetables (but not potatoes) are cultivated locally and consumed in considerable quantities, as are nuts and honey.

Collectivization of the land in the 1920s proceeded relatively smoothly in Abkhazia, in part because existing family-based organizations of labor resembled it. By 1980 there were eighty-nine collective farms and fifty-four state farms. The law allows each household the use of 0.5 hectare, although in practice this allotment is often exceeded. Rural Abkhazians still raise many of their own fruits, vegetables, and chickens on these plots and make their own jams, pickles, condiments, and wine—the last with particular pride. Pre-Revolution hunters' and herders' guilds survive within collectives as professional unions, traditionally excluding women. Women, however, are the main tobacco pickers and processors, though this work has become more mechanized. (The home was the traditional locus of women's activities, but today many work outside it in the general economy.) Major changes since the Revolution include the improvement of roads and railways and an increase in the mining of coal and barite in T'q'varchal. Other important industries are canning and lumber processing; the mighty Inguri hydroelectric power plant is on Abkhazia's southern border. Local crafts still practiced today include ceramics, leatherwork, wood carving, and repoussé metalwork, especially on daggers and drinking horns. Tourism is crucial economically, especially in the famous resort towns of Gagra, Pitsunda, and Sukhumi, where many sanatoriums are located. Local crafts, a good selection of agricultural products, and many other kinds of goods are traded in open-air peasant bazaars; uninspired state shops stock staples, with some items in erratic or short supply. Much trade is still in the hands of Greeks and Armenians, or now Russians and other non-Abkhazian residents.

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