|"A Nordmann fir tree for sale at a German Christmas tree market: Georgia is a major supplier of seeds for Nordmann firs." (DAPD)|
By Matthias Schepp
Spiegel Online, December 22, 2010
"Dato Chikhardze sets a plastic canister of water down beside his rusty Lada in front of his brick house. He has just drawn the water from a nearby river. Life is basic here in the mountains, and living conditions are tough. Dato, 44, is one of the lucky ones: He has a full-time, if low-paid, job as a teacher at the village school. Only 22 out of 300 residents in the village of Tlugi have full-time jobs. Every September, three months before Christmas, Dato and the other men from the village set off to make a little extra money. They go into the remote mountain forests around the small city of Ambrolauri to pick fir cones. The seeds from these cones are bound for Europe, to be grown into stately Nordmann fir trees that will eventually enhance the Christmas celebrations of wealthy Europeans. Well over half of all fir seeds that become household Christmas trees in countries such as Germany, Denmark and Great Britain originate in Tlugi and other villages here in northeastern Georgia. Georgian fir cones are considered to be especially high quality because they produce tall, long-lasting trees with soft needles. Christmas tree sales in Europe amount to €2 billion ($2.6 billion) annually -- the business generated €700 million in sales in Germany alone last year. It's a highly competitive market, and one that wouldn't be nearly as profitable without Georgian fir cones. Seven to 10 kilograms (15 to 22 pounds) of Nordmann fir cones are needed for a single kilogram of seeds. Middlemen in Georgia sell these for around €25 per kilo to foreign companies, who in turn resell them in Europe for more than €100 per kilo -- 50 times the amount earned by workers like Dato.