Albanians ambivalent about Organic and Natural products
Found amongst a diverse product range, without clearly understanding what is native and what is imported, Albanians have turned into a myth the phrase 'Bio were only the products that our grandparents consumed'. This phrase contains its own truth, but not entirely. Natural does not necessarily means organic. The standards applied in agriculture, particularly bio standards, are a set of rules and specifications that define the exact and appropriate conditions for the production, processing, transport, certification and control of agricultural products.
A product is not organic, just because you bought it from a farmer who swears that they are fresh vegetables and fruits from their farm. It is very important that you have more information about the location of the farm or the garden, the land where these products are grown, what is used to dump the land, whether this land is polluted by a waste deposit near the crop and how these products were transported to the point of sale.
Organic Production in Albania
The fertile agricultural land, warm weather and mild climate make Albania an ideal source of organic production. The organic production sector in Albania however is still at an early stage. Productivity in this sector is low. Among the main problems are the lack of investment financing, outdated production methods, lack of information and market penetration. Nevertheless, the organic production sector in Albania is developing dynamically.
According to the World Organic Agriculture Report - Statistics and Trends 2015, Albania has 662 hectares of organic soil, accounting for 0.1% of total agricultural land. According to the published data, which refer to the year 2013, in Albania there are 46 organic producers, 27 agro-processing operators, 4 importers and 20 exporters. Organic agricultural land in 2013 increased by 29% compared to 2012.
The development of Organic Agricultural Land in Albania 2010-2013
Source: World Organic Agriculture Report - Statistics and Trends 2015
Bio Certification is an important tool for Albanian farmers especially for the export of their products. However, they are still skeptical. "Bio does not exist "says Altin Prenga, farm owner of "Mrizi i Zanave" in Fishte, Lezhe. “Instead of the word "organic", I prefer to describe my farm products with terms like: natural, seasonal, fresh or of the area and so I feel more honest with the customer”.
“Organic is not sustainable”, he adds, explaining the main issues he regards as obstacles; “the lack of organic seeds, high costs for organic product testing and the fact that it is impossible not to use chemical pesticides to protect products during growth”.
The fact that Mr. Prenga does not export his farm products is another reason why he probably has not yet felt the emergency for a Bio Certification. For exporters though the need to certify their products is imperative.
In Albania there are overall 38 Organic Farms certified by Albinspekt, based on the data made available by this institution. Albinspekt, is an operator that provides an inspection service and certification of organic products according to national, private and European standards. Albinspekt main role is to provide inspection / certification services as well as information on the principles and methods of organic production and constitutes the certifying body of 70% of the certified companies in Albania.
According to a FiBL study on the international organic sector, organic production in Albania has become very important and has grown significantly in the last years. As stated by the report, the success of harvested wild herbs certified by organic standards is particularly impressive. Medicinal plants, chestnuts, mushrooms and wild berries have risen to over 9% in the national territory. An innovative processing industry is already specialized in refining these natural resources. This is of great economic importance for the development of rural areas. On the demand side, the domestic market is expected to grow and expand. Important incentives towards the focus of organic management have recently been incorporated into the financial support schemes of the Ministry of Agriculture for organic production. An additional reason has been the growing interest in Albania for domestically produced healthy products.
Several successful regional and international co-operation projects have been carried out; there have also been efforts by some local producers, but organic production is still sold to only a handful of distributors of organic or bio products. The current inability of producers to offer a wide range of products creates major differences on seasonal production bases and adds difficulty to the organized distribution.
Increasing Interest for Albanian Organic products
"Albania needs to be oriented towards organic farming," stated the president of the German Federal Office of Agriculture and Food Hanns Christoph Eiden, during a recent agreement between Albania and Germany. In the opinion of Mr. Christoph Eiden, there is a lot of potential in the German market for the introduction of organic products.
According to the Minister of Agriculture, Edmond Panariti, Albania has a promising future for the growth of organic production. As stated by Mr. Panariti, Albania has a potential of about 200 farms of organic agriculture, who in order to get acquainted with foreign markets, in addition to national accreditation, must obtain international accreditation too.
For consumers, it is always more important to know the products they consume, so they are willing to look for products that are naturally cultivated, grown with organic products are processed and transported according to established standards set by the responsible institutions or organizations.
To compete fairly in an international market where the purchasing power is well informed and quality-oriented, Albanian farmers will have to take the appropriate measures to meet expectations and requirements by certifying their products. Organic or natural, proof is needed to prove it.