Located 26 kilometres from Kutaisi in the Imereti region, the village of Esteri was for a good place for employment due to its proximity to the second biggest city in Georgia. Champagne production and tea growing were two of the Esterians' main economic activities.
There are 700 household and 2,030 people living in Esteri today. Back in 2002, there were 1,200 households and 6,700 residents.
With the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the slow decay of local enterprises, the village's recipe for survival became migration.
'There are no private companies in the village. The only employment you can get is in working your own land, which might or might not produce enough for your own needs' – Lali Kapanadze, former tea farmer.
According to one of the inhabitants, Tamaz Sumalanidze, 30% of Esteri's inhabitants left the village. There were two alternatives, as far as migration was concerned. One meant moving to Tbilisi; the other meant travelling to Russia, Turkey or Greece.
The migrants have been sending remittances back to their families. Women are mainly going to Greece; for them, finding jobs there is easier than for the men. They are working as babysitters, cleaners, etc. Until the crisis in relations between Russia and Georgia, the villagers were moving to different cities in Russia, mostly to work in construction. After Russian-Georgian relations deteriorated, however, they were expelled. It was now to Turkey that they travelled in search of seasonal jobs. These are one- or three-month jobs, primarily related to processing tea and collecting hazelnuts.
Imereti farm house. Photo: flickr/SusanAstray
Tea cropping used to be central to the village economy.
Over a cup of imported tea from India, Lali Kapanadze, a former tea farmer, said:
'Tea used to be one of the main exporting items of Georgia but now it is all imported.'
According to agricultural statistics for 2007, tea leaf production decreased in Georgia from 581,000 tons in 1985 to 7,500 tons in 2007.
Due to economic conditions and migration, the village population is shrinking. With the birth rate significantly lower than the death rate, the village is also rapidly aging. In 2007, only 11 people were born and 42 died.