Georgian fir cones
The Christmas tree industry is worth almost a billion pounds a year in Europe alone. Most of the ones around us now, covered in baubles and tinsel didn't start life in the UK or even Scandinavia, but in one small village, in the mountains of Georgia close to the border with Russia. Angus Crawford travels to the small town of Ambrolauri in the shadow of the Caucasus mountains. There men risk their lives climbing the big firs to harvest the seeds of Abies Nordmanniana, the Nordman pine. More than forty million are sold in Europe every year. The harvesters are paid little and many are given no safety equipment. If they fall they may be injured or killed. The pine cones they gather are sold abroad and it's foreign companies that make profits from growing and selling the crop. Meanwhile Georgia's villages are dying. Families can't make enough money from farming and move away. Most of those who remain have to live on less than three pounds a day. But things are changing. One Danish firm is working with local people to put more of the profits from the business back into their hands. They pay their workers above the market rate, process the seed locally and for every tree sold abroad money is sent back for development projects. There's talk of starting nurseries near Ambrolauri to feed growing markets in Eastern Europe and bring more foreign capital into the country. Money that Georgia desperately needs. Its economy is still only 60% of what it was in Soviet times, and it now imports eighty per cent of its food. The rusting hulks of abandoned factories litter the countryside. But now some Georgians are asking if the pine cone trade can provide a model of how to breathe new life into their country's crumbling economy.