During the difficult 90s, preserving the family became everyone’s primary objective. Those years taught us to fight, even for a piece of bread. My family found a solution in producing dried fruit, and we all got involved in the business, selling our products at the Jvari agrarian market in the Tsalenjikha district.
Life presented another challenge in 2005 when I was diagnosed with a severe illness. I have been an oncology patient ever since, undergoing chemotherapy for ten years following the diagnosis. Supporting a family with three children and covering educational expenses and my treatment required significant financial resources. Despite the illness, I couldn’t afford to relax; I had to find strength and motivation to balance my time between the oncology clinic and home. In other words, I needed to find a job that met my daily needs.
I learned that the project “Economic and social participation of vulnerable displaced and local population in the South Caucasus – EPIC” of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) in cooperation with Action Against Hunger (AAH) offered training and grants to successful participants in Jvari during 2018-2019. Admittedly, I was initially skeptical about these projects, believing that grant distribution was influenced by nepotism. However, at my eldest son’s insistence, I joined the project with an entirely different goal: to receive a grant to buy a sewing machine, as sewing had been a hobby of mine since childhood.
During individual training, I shared my personal story with my trainer, including how my family had been involved in dried fruit production since the 90s. The trainer suggested that I pursue this path and apply for a grant to purchase drying equipment and other essential tools. The competition was fierce, with only seven entrepreneurs selected as grant recipients. Following my trainer’s advice, I wrote a business plan for another grant competition and ended up winning both contests, receiving both grants. It was challenging to attend two trainings simultaneously, care for my family, and manage household responsibilities, but the urgent need to expand the business propelled me forward.
People often ask how I found the strength to accomplish so much while battling cancer. My children were my source of strength. I graduated with honors from high school in Senaki and earned a red diploma in pedagogy from university. I always wanted my children to receive higher education. For years, my driving thought was to stay alive long enough to see my children’s academic achievements. This determination gave me the strength to fight. After receiving the grants, I didn’t waste a single minute and attended every available training session.
Through donors and various trainings, I learned how to transform my family’s production into a brand, gradually establishing Nino’s Dried Fruit company. Beginning with dried persimmons and figs, we now offer dried black plums, apples, and prunes, as well as fruit chips and chocolate-covered dried fruit. This year, I introduced a kiwi product that was well-received by customers.
As for sales, while I initially delivered products in bulk to the Zugdidi agricultural market, we now package and deliver our products to various cities. There were years when our dried fruit was even exported to Abkhazia from the Zugdidi market. Packaging enabled us to introduce our products to local markets as well. The United Nations Women’s Organization members assist me with sales, and I also receive orders from Tbilisi through them.
Nino’s Dried Fruit is entirely organic, which was confirmed by a Japanese laboratory when a businessman sent our products to Japan for testing. After receiving the positive results, he called me apologetically, as he had initially doubted my claims. Following the inspection, our dried fruit was sold in Japan on several occasions.
The equipment we purchased using donor grants operates on solar energy, allowing the dried fruit to dry naturally, as if in the sun. We set up the factory at home, ensuring that production is protected from germs. I often mention donors because, given my health condition, I likely wouldn’t have risked expanding the business without their support.
Currently, I am working on obtaining barcodes for Nino’s Dried Fruit and introducing our products to supermarket chains. I am hopeful that this endeavor will be successful as well.
The Article is prepared within the women empowerment campaign #ProudHer. The Campaign is implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and funded by the European Union and German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).