Eurostat: Albania is one of Europe’s top citrus, medicinal plant producers

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times January 8, 2019 12:35

Eurostat: Albania is one of Europe’s top citrus, medicinal plant producers

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  • Albania is among Europe’s top ten producers when it comes to citrus fruit, aromatic and medicinal plants as well as chestnuts, according to Eurostat, the EU’s statistical office

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TIRANA, Jan. 8 - Although one of Europe's smallest countries in terms of area and population, the favorable Mediterranean climate with plenty of sunshine ranks Albania one of the top agricultural producers among 38 European nations.

Data published by Eurostat, the EU’s statistical office, shows Albania is among Europe’s top ten producers when it comes to citrus fruit, aromatic and medicinal plants as well as chestnuts.

Albania had 1,000 hectares of citrus fruit in 2016 with a production of 40,000 metric tons, ranking the country the Western Balkans' top producer and Europe's ninth largest producer on a list topped by much larger Spain, Turkey and Italy.

Citrus production in Albania is primarily represented by mandarin cultivation in the southern Albanian region of Saranda, where a mandarin cooperative has turned into a success story in Albania's underdeveloped agriculture sector.

Mandarin production from the country’s most famous private-run collective farm in Xarre village, Saranda, a rare example in Albania’s fragmented and individually-run farms, is estimated at 18,000 metric tons from about 500 hectares of mandarins in a joint enterprise where about 450 farmers have come together.

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.

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, where the famous clementine mandarin is successfully produced, 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.

Albania also performs well in orange production with a production of more than 9,000 metric tons from 200 hectares, ranking the country’s Europe’s eighth largest producer, according to Eurostat.

Mandarin and orange are also successfully cultivated in Vlora and Berat, two other southern Albania region with an early tradition, but also recently more and more in central Albania.

Aromatic and medicinal plant, producing Albania’s traditional top agricultural exports, also rank the country Europe’s seventh largest producer, with a production of around 13,000 metric tons from 5,400 hectares.

Albania exports around €30 million in medicinal plants each year in an industry that employs thousands of farmers, especially in northern Albania. Sage-dominated exports are mostly destined for America. Experts say that if the plants were cultivated instead of being picked wild as they have been so far, the harvest could increase as much as six fold.

Chestnuts are also among Albania’s top dried fruit products. Eurostat data shows Albania produced 6,200 metric tons of chestnuts in a surface area of 2,300 hectares in 2017, ranking Europe’s sixth largest producer.

Mainly produced in the northeaster Albanian region of Tropoja, Albanian chestnuts have been rapidly penetrating EU markets in the past few years, with most exports destined for Italy.

A key sector of the Albanian economy, agriculture employs about half of the country’s population, but due to its poor productivity provides only about a fifth of the national output.

Experts say unclear property titles for around half of the country’s agricultural land is a key barrier for the development of larger farms and access to local and EU subsidies that could make Albania’s products much more competitive.

In addition to land fragmentation, poor financing, lack of subsidies and key infrastructure such as irrigation as well as a high tax burden are a serious problem for Albania’s agriculture sector, with high costs often making local products uncompetitive, especially traditional crops such as wheat and corn facing tough competition from regional markets applying subsidies.

Agriculture is also one of the most informal sectors of the Albanian economy with only a tenth of farmers possessing tax ID numbers that make that eligible for local and EU funds.

In late 2018, Albania launched applications that enable local farmers and agribusinesses access to EU funds after the European Commission officially greenlighted the start of the implementation of IPARD II, the Instrument for Pre-accession for Rural Development programme.

Albania’s agriculture still faces a huge trade gap with the country exporting only about a quarter of what it imports. Canned fish and medicinal plants are Albania’s top agricultural exports.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times January 8, 2019 12:35