Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa he spoke with Professor Enver Isufi, director of the Institute for Organic Agriculture in Durazzo. Interview by Francesco Martino
At what stage of development is organic agriculture currently found in Albania?
Albanian organic farming took its first steps in 1997, when the first Organic Agriculture Association (OAA) was founded with the support of several international donors such as Avalon (Netherlands), the Swiss Institute for Organic Agriculture, USAID, Italian cooperation, etc. Today, the main actors working for the development of organic agriculture in Albania are the Institute for Organic Agriculture, the Albanian Marketing Association and the Albinspekt certification body. Currently we have about 80 organic producers active on local and international markets, operating under the auspices of the Institute for Organic Agriculture.
How do you assess the development of the organic farming sector in Albania, starting with the first steps, taken in the early 2000 years?
Between the 2001 and the 2011 Albania has had the largest number of bio-farmers: at that time organic farming enjoyed greater support from different donors. Subsequently, the number of farmers engaged in organic farming has decreased year by year. In recent years, however, we have returned to a positive trend, with a significant increase in bio-farmers, especially in the fields of medicinal plants and organic olive oil. This trend is (also) the consequence of the increasing subsidies wanted by the Albanian government in the last two years.
What are the most present and promising organic crops in Albania today?
Currently medicinal plants, fresh herbs and olive oil, which also represent the main exports to international markets. In recent years we have witnessed an increase in the number of farmers who cultivate medicinal and aromatic plants, while those that produce fruit and vegetables have decreased.
What types of farmers are interested in moving from traditional to organic farming?
Many and different types of farmers show interest in the transition from conventional to organic production. Many, however, do not have the necessary financial resources. In general, I believe that if financial support were easier to obtain, many other producers would be ready to go organic.
Is the current legislation adequate to support the needs of organic farmers? Are there significant public funds or financial contributions dedicated to the sector?
In the 2016 the Albanian parliament approved a new law, specifically designed to develop and support organic farming in the country. The rules for the effective implementation of the new law are now ready, but the government has not yet implemented them.
The subsidies vary from 700 to 1.500 Euro for each certified farmer, based on the conversion phase to organic production (first year, second year and complete bioproduction in the third year). Taking into consideration the needs of small Albanian bio-farmers (with an average organic farm of about two hectares), I think this level of financial support is good and, at least on paper, allows the farmers concerned to switch to organic production. So far, however, farmers have not always received the sums to which they are entitled.
Is there a long-term strategy for the development of organic farming in Albania?
At the moment, the Albanian government has not elaborated any new action plan for the development of organic agriculture after the first (2007-2013), only partially implemented, has reached its natural conclusion. We believe that a new plan is needed to identify and pursue sustainable goals in the sector.
Is there already a functional local market, able to absorb local production and stimulate a growing presence of organic products on the tables of Albania?
Last year we recorded a reduction in the number of sales points for organic products in Albania, also due to the decrease in the number and variety of products on sale, in particular fruit and vegetables. Albania currently does not have an adequate network of sales channels, collection points and refrigeration rooms for the distribution and storage of fresh organic products. At the same time, there is no financial support for developing consumer education, promoting and marketing organic products.
Is there the potential to export organic Albanian products? If not, what challenges and obstacles must be overcome?
Many Albanian organic products have clear export potential. Once again, the main obstacle is the lack of financial support available to farmers to explore new markets abroad. Another challenge is the lack of tools and opportunities to acquire the know-how strongly necessary: bio-input, training, extension services, publications, marketing support and consumer education would be particularly welcome. If and when these resources become available, the number and quantity of products exported could increase significantly.
How do international donors currently contribute, both financially and in terms of knowledge sharing, to the Albanian organic sector?
In recent years, unfortunately, projects funded by EU pre-accession instruments such as IPARD and IPA and international donors in general have not given priority to organic farming. It is not easy to understand the reasons for this lack of interest: perhaps there is no trust in the potential of the Albanian market for organic products, or donors are frightened by the high standards required by organic farming. For my part, it is particularly difficult to understand why the EU does not support the organic sector in Albania more. Lately we have heard rumors about different donors willing to start new projects, but it is not yet clear if this will happen or not. Meanwhile, what remains on the ground are some minor donor projects such as Cospe (Italy) and Giz (Germany), which still manage to support some farmers and organic productions.
Is there significant regional cooperation in the Balkans to support and develop sustainable long-term organic farming?
In the 2011 a biological network of south-eastern Europe (SEEON) was created to support the development of organic farming at the regional level. The platform organized over ten meetings, in which we shared common problems and challenges, know-how acquired, etc. .. The initiative proved useful, but unfortunately there are still no concrete plans for a real and sustainable development of organic farming in the region.
The Mediterranean diet portal
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.
Go to dossier dedicated by OBCT to the North of Albania