Xarra mandarin cooperative, a success story in Albania’s undeveloped agriculture

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times December 7, 2017 18:18

Xarra mandarin cooperative, a success story in Albania’s undeveloped agriculture

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  • The fifth mandarin festival held this week in Xarra, Saranda, found local farmers with a record production of about 18,000 metric tons from about 500 hectares of mandarins in a joint enterprise where about 450 farmers have come together to produce a success story in Albania's agriculture sector

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TIRANA, Dec. 7 – Mandarin production from the country’s most famous private-run collective farm in Saranda, a rare example in Albania’s fragmented and individually-run farms, has registered a new historic high this year, meeting domestic consumption needs and expanding its exports map to Poland in addition to regional markets.

The fifth mandarin festival held this week in Xarra, Saranda, southernmost Albania, found local farmers with a record production of about 18,000 metric tons from about 500 hectares of mandarins in a joint enterprise where about 450 farmers have come together to produce a success story in Albania’s agriculture sector.

Still notorious because of the legacy of the communist regime, Xarra farmers were the first to join and establish a commercial cooperative in 1995, only few years after the shift to a market economy.

Experts describe the cooperative as a wise way of breaking with the Albanian tradition of individual farm business and a model which has paved the way for the introduction of Albanian products to foreign markets.

Dhimo Kote, a former head of the Xarre commune and a citrus entrepreneur, who is now the country’s deputy agriculture minister, has dedicated the success to the cooperative venture which has expanded to 85,000 trees, of which 75,000 are mandarins.

“We plant 500 hectares of mandarins and produce about 16,000 metric tons which at a price of 45 lek (€0.33)/kg account for Euro 6 million,” Kote has earlier said, adding that exports are destined for Kosovo, Macedonia and Poland.

Mid-term targets are to increase citrus production to about 50,000 metric tons and employ about 1,000 people.

“Cooperative models in Divjaka, Berat, but also Xarra and Korça are an example of agriculture and livestock development with a very positive result,” Kote has said, suggesting that products such as nuts, bean and kiwi can be successfully cultivated in cooperative farms and destined for exports instead of illegal cannabis cultivation.

Located in southernmost Albania just off the UNESCO World Heritage site of Butrint, the Xarra cooperative near the Ionian coastline also benefits from a Mediterranean climate with plenty of sunshine.

Since its establishment in 1995, the number of farmers who have joined forces to work together in Xarra has increased from a mere seven to 450. The cooperative employs more than 400 people, 250 of whom from outside the local area.

The success of the farm is also a result of USAID’s assistance to farmers to increase the production, marketing, and sales of citrus fruits.

USAID says it has worked with mandarin growers in Xarra to develop a citrus production growth strategy, and over the last several years has provided technical assistance to support investments in new technologies and infrastructure.

Albania has an early tradition of cultivating citrus.

Citrus orchards grew strongly in communist post-war Albania from a national total of less than 100,000 trees to more than 1 million by 1990. The citrus sub-sector reached a low point in terms of size and performance in 1998, right after the 1997 financial collapse of the country.

A study has shown agricultural cooperatives, legally recognized since 2012 but poorly developed because of their bias under communism when they were state-run, can serve as a tool of economic growth and political instrument in Albania.

Agriculture is a key sector of the Albanian economy, employing about half of the country’s population, but providing only 20 percent of the GDP, unveiling its untapped potential and poor productivity.

The fragmentation of farm land into plots of little more than one hectare split in four parcels in the early 1990s land reform is described as a huge burden for the development of Albanian agriculture in terms of access to financing and investment, reducing their competitiveness due to high costs.

The Albanian government spends only 0.5 percent of the GDP on agriculture while credit to the agricultural sector represents only 2 percent of total credit to businesses, according to central bank data.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times December 7, 2017 18:18