Davide Sighele, of Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa interviewed in May 2019 Nino Merola, director of the Agency for Italian Cooperation in Tirana
What genesis and objectives of the "Made With Italy" ethical brand?
It is the result of internal reflections by the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS) and an analysis of the work done on the territory. On the one hand, it seemed important to make the work done in over 10 years in Albania relatively recognizable with regard to typical products and the enhancement of the territorial context. And on the other hand, in our opinion, the market is ripe to give a boost not only to a certain type of product, but also to the creation of an identity, to facilitate the association and the creation of common values among our partners , that is the beneficiaries of the brand.
Why use the adjective "ethical"?
To differentiate it from the sense that is commonly attributed to a brand in the market. It is usually understood as a quality mark. In our case, on the other hand, we have no production regulations and therefore we do not place ourselves as guarantors for that particular product. It is not our role. Instead we want to emphasize that that particular product or service is part of a development process, the result of a close partnership, of a collaboration with the Italian cooperation that saw a strong co-participation of the beneficiaries. It is therefore a brand that we can call a path, a recognition, it is a brand that must allow us to add value in order to be able to qualify, to be able to present ourselves, to be able to recognize ourselves, to be able to associate ourselves in communication actions and so on. I repeat, it differs substantially from the quality mark. We care to be clear, not because there is a reduction in the assumption of responsibility, but because that of control is not our role. Local standards and institutions exist to verify products and procedures.
Have you focused on certain sectors in particular? What and why?
We aim to enhance certain territories, at 360 degrees. It is a principle well known to us Italians because throughout our peninsula there are many initiatives in this regard. We have applied the same principle to certain geographical contexts of Albania, enhancing typical agri-food products and fundamental services to tourism, which is then the main engine of the economy that is allowing the revival of rural areas or less central areas of Albania . The latter in fact have great attractions for their natural resources and high quality food and wine traditions.
Are there typical productions that hold up the market and can they also look to Europe?
In the agri-food sector we definitely talk about quality products because they are produced in the traditional way: the flavors are genuine, those we knew we 30 / 40 years ago in Italy, before we passed I do not say to an industrial process but to quantities clearly superior. The challenge will be precisely this: to maintain the craftsmanship of these products and certain production characteristics.
Overall it will therefore be difficult to have important quantities: this is the reason why for now we continue to sell and market in the reference territories, there are still no quantities to enter into collaboration with supermarket chains and even less in a context of fair trade and international solidarity. However, the response of the local market, particularly by tourists, is very high.
Everything that is produced is sold and there is indeed a lack of supply compared to a growing demand. We speak, I stress, of contained and modest quantities as a whole, but in the specific, in the punctual, that is referred to the area in which they affect, they are extremely important: because they are setting in motion a supply chain, they are bringing interesting economic results and above all these productions are giving back confidence to the territory and giving a perspective.
In what sense do you trust?
In these territories the sense of discouragement, of detachment, that sense that leads to forced emigration because there are no alternatives is attenuated. It is also thanks to the support of Italian cooperation that the inhabitants of these territories rediscover their identity and their pride in living and working according to their traditions. I would like to stress that it is a bit the same thing that happens in Italy, from Trentino to Puglia or Sicily where everything that is an expression of the territory and that has its own tradition in specific cultural terms is today a factor of success and attraction.
Can the Made with Italy brand be seen as symbolic as regards the integration path into the EU of Albania?
It is a symbol of true partnership, of friendship, of a common path; then this could in some way be extended to an accompaniment towards a path of European integration. Of course, it is not that the agribusiness or craftsmanship trend can be sufficient on its own. But the work that the Italian cooperation does, together with other institutions, is aimed at accompanying and supporting the country and the national institutions towards the achievement of European standards and towards the attainment of those that are the requirements that are set for the accession process ; so yes, Made with Italy is an example of a path that cooperation makes and is doing also in many other sectors.
Was there anything that surprised you about the reactions in Albania to your proposal?
We are positively surprised, because we have seen not only grasp the essence of the intervention, but what we liked most is that this meant developing a sense of identity, belonging to the community, pride in relaunching our traditions. It is therefore an initiative that also gathers intangible fruits: not only tied to numbers or quantities, but deeper fruits, long lasting and for which we are recognized that we were the architects, in Albania and elsewhere in the Balkans.
Is this a brand also extended to other areas of the Western Balkans or south-east Europe?
It is present in Albania and we have every intention of proposing it in other countries where cooperation is working, especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We are sure that the brand contributes to giving recognition and visibility, especially to tourists who in these areas are fortunately in great growth.
What are the future steps for this initiative?
It is becoming a best practice of the Italian Cooperation Agency, so it is likely that in contexts where it can be applied it will be resumed. Then what the future will also tell the market, it may in fact be that Made with Italy will be a vehicle to open certain commercial channels or to create associations where there is this tradition and where small producers or small representatives of the territory, if they associate , can present and promote their territory and their activity in a more impactful way, with a greater impact.
Attention to the fate of entire families, attention to the development of local communities, attention to the landscape, attention to issues of economic development. In short, these are the key elements that theAlliance for the development and enhancement of family agriculture in northern Albania proposes to set in motion, starting from traditional knowledge, typical products and the role of women.
4 July 2017 launched from the city of Pukë, this three-year project is promoted by two Italian NGOs - Reggio Terzo Mondo (RTM) and emerging countries Development Cooperation (COSPE) - with the support of the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS). The objective of the initiative may sound "traditional" - the eco-sustainable development of one of the most backward areas of Albania - but the network and the method they propose to implement it are innovative. Agropuka, given its role in the region, participates in the initiative as a permanent member of the Management Committee of the Endowment Fund for the Development of Family Farming, a project-based financing scheme.
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