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Last Updated:[23-12-2010 05:14:26 EDT] Zoom in Zoom out Back to Tradenews

Georgian Fir Cone Pickers Get Safe Deal in X-mas Tree Drive

tradenews The ubiquitous Nordmann fir trees which don most European houses during Christmas are undergoing a major change in their sourcing practice, that risked many fir cone pickers lives for a pittance in the past. A Danish fir tree firm with a hard fought sourcing licence from the Georgian government is providing pickers with safe climbing tips, necessary paraphernalia besides decent wage through its Fair Tree project.

Impoverished people of Tlugi, a small town in the north-west of Georgia often got attracted to the seasonal cone picking job despite life threatening risks because of acute unemployment in the region. Most families live on less than $3 (2) and the picking fetches about 31 cents (20p) per kg of cones, while a fully grown Nordmann fir will sell for 40 ($62) or more at the European markets including Germany, Denmark and the UK.

Earlier all pickers used to climb ungeared to the top of the tree about 40m (130ft) to pluck the fir cones, but with the new support project some of them are equipped with proper safety gears. The Danish company has distributed more than a dozen sets of safety equipment in the region and provided health and life insurance policies for 30 workers as part of its project.

The Georgian fir cones are regarded as of high quality since they produce tall, long-lasting trees with soft needles. Some 90 percent of the seeds of the Nordmann fir sold in Europe hail from Georgias natural forest as they cannot be produced through farming.

Each spring around 20 tonnes of these seeds are planted by European nurseries. Nonetheless, the Georgian government has not taken any trade initiative to exploit the possibilities that could eventually aid job creation and picker protection norms.

Christmas tree sales in Europe amount to 2bn ($2.6bn) per annum - the business generated 700mn in sales in Germany alone last year. Seven to 10 kgs (15 to 22 pounds) of Nordmann fir cones are needed to produce one kg 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 more than the amount earned by the pickers.

Marianne Bols, the founder of the Fair Tree project describes it as a Christmas tree that the European families can put in their living rooms with a clear conscience.

By Jose Roy

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