"The perspective of the younger generation to build a better future in the village is a great challenge for Albanian society."
Anke Petersen, manager of the Project "Sustainable Rural Development" funded by the German Government and implemented in our country by GIZ in cooperation with Albanian institutions, in an interview with the Albanian Telegraphic Agency, said that "Development of rural areas and especially the sector of agriculture are among the most important priorities for the Albanian economy ”.
What exactly is the help of the 'Sustainable Rural Development' project to make this sector as competitive as possible?
Albania, on the road to EU membership, faces a number of challenges in terms of structural changes in agriculture and tourism - but at the same time there are many opportunities for development. Our approach aims to promote agriculture and rural tourism, in order to diversify incomes and employment prospects of residents in rural areas of Albania. We aim to achieve this through improved on-farm production, off-farm activities and the promotion of selected agricultural products, with a focus on the value chain of fruits, vegetables, small livestock (dairy products) and aromatic and medicinal plants and the value chain of tourism, as both agriculture and tourism account for the largest share of employment in Albania. We believe that greater diversification of the economy in rural areas as well as increased competitiveness in agriculture will contribute to generating more income. This improves the outlook for the population in rural areas as a whole, especially for young people, including returnees from emigration to rural areas and in Albania in general. The key is to improve conditions to enable sustainable income generation in rural areas.
In the current conditions of the Covid 19 pandemic, what support do you foresee for the agricultural sector and tourism?
Tourism in particular is among the hardest hit sectors. Supporting the project to mitigate the consequences of the crisis caused by Covid-19 is a joint initiative with the bilateral program "Sustainable Economic and Regional Development, Promoting Employment, Education and Vocational Training in Albania (ProSEED)" and "Sustainable Development" Rural ”(SRD), both funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
The overarching goal is to provide support through counseling to Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises in Albania, which have been hit by the effects of the pandemic, first and foremost, to maintain or increase employment. As part of this initiative, the ProSEED and SRD projects make an important contribution to the early and most effective crisis management for a large number of businesses, mainly in the two most affected sectors, agriculture and tourism, but this mitigation measure is open. also for other sectors. In addition, these ventures will be supported for the application of new digital and innovative solutions, not only to mitigate the effects of the current crisis but also to build a more solid ground for their future operations, modeling the new situation beyond immediate effects of COVID-19.
The support is designed to mitigate the effects of the crisis, stimulating the business to adapt its operations to the new situation, financially supporting to cover their needs those businesses that have not benefited from other donor support schemes or have not have the right capacities to apply. Both of these objectives will be addressed through advising and securing grants.
In parallel, we are launching two promotional campaigns for the two sectors, agriculture and tourism, in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Ministry of Tourism and Environment. The #unerrineShqiperi campaign has officially started on June 6 on social networks, in order to promote Albania as a holiday destination for this summer 2020, while the 'Albania works the land' campaign will start in August, with the aim of promoting local products and Albanian farmers.
What support does the project provide for small farmers?
As mentioned above, the project will promote the modernization of 4 commercial value chains in agriculture such as aromatic and medicinal plants, fruits and dried fruits, vegetables and small livestock. In this way, we aim to increase competition between farmers and processors for export, import substitution and local markets. Based on the best examples of previous projects, the project supports small farm farmers and small enterprises in some regions selected as pilots, where we will support measures related to the combination of agriculture and rural tourism, while preserving agrobiodiversity, in in order to generate additional income for agricultural households. The means by which we aim to achieve this, our support for small farmers, small and medium-sized businesses and other important actors in the agricultural sector, range from improving market access through marketing strategies, participation in international fairs, etc. , to technological and digital solutions, such as pest management, market information and other pre-harvest and post-harvest technologies.
The perspective of the younger generation to build a better future in the village is a great challenge for the Albanian society.
Does your project have a special support for young farmers?
As many young people migrate temporarily or permanently from rural areas with poor economic structure to other cities or countries, these rural areas in Albania face the challenge of population aging or depopulation. This situation poses a real challenge especially in the agricultural sector, but not only. For this reason, the project aims to provide more income-generating opportunities for local communities and returned migrants to rural areas.
In this context, we are working together with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to find solutions so that young people can have access to agricultural land. As a result, more young people will be able to engage as entrepreneurs in the agricultural sector.
Furthermore, it is necessary to create a group of experts, ready to promote innovation in agriculture. In this context, the project will collaborate with agricultural universities to introduce a doctoral program that aims to deepen the knowledge of excellent students on topics that are relevant to the sector. The project will provide further support, informing young people about the agricultural industry, taking into account their qualifications and needs, providing concrete employment and training offers, in an initiative we call 'from boots to suit'.
Through agriculture-focused public television, the project will promote success stories of young entrepreneurs in agriculture, thus inspiring other young people with their own success story. Beyond the traditional products of agricultural crops, we know young entrepreneurs who work on agro-tourist farms or produce products not so well known for the Albanian market, but who have used the climatic advantages offered by the country to produce Aloe-Vera plants. A network of young farmers will specifically address the needs of the new generation of farmers and help further modernize the agricultural sector.
Albania has special specifics in different territorial areas, as well as different problems and potentials.
Does your project have a regional focus, or is it spread throughout the country. If there is a regional extension, in which areas does it operate and who are the direct beneficiaries?
The program "Sustainable Rural Development" has a regional focus, it is also extended throughout the territory of Albania. In terms of intervention in agriculture, we work all over the country, depending on where the products are produced and where they are processed. As for rural development, related to tourism, we work specifically in three regions, which are the region of Shkodra, the region of Dibra and the Southern Coastal region (Vlora region). The target group is the rural population of Albania with a focus on micro, small and medium enterprises in agriculture and rural tourism. In particular, the project aims to support women and young people up to the age of 40.
Rural tourism is another important sector, but with potential still untapped.
What support does the project provide for the sustainable development of rural tourism?
In cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism and Environment, the project supports the creation of models of the Destination Management Organization in Debar, the Albanian Alps and the Vlora region to determine the structure, management and marketing of Albanian tourist destinations. We look forward to starting with the first Pilot Destination Management Organization in the Dibra region and working with existing tourism structures there. Destination management refers to a comprehensive approach, where many aspects of a destination are managed through a coordinated process. It can include marketing management, local accommodation, tours, events, activities, attractions and transportation, and is often the responsibility of a dedicated destination management organization.
Furthermore, the project supports the development and diversification of tourism products. This will promote Albania to a wider market abroad and provide more employment and income opportunities in this sector. We are focused on existing tourism products and new products. Some of them are: hiking / hiking trails, cycling trails, new climbing routes in all three regions, agritourism, assessment and opportunities for a sustainable winter tourism in the Northern Alps and in the Dibra region, summer and culinary trails, promotion of ecological camping etc.
We are also supporting marketing activities, in line with the National Tourism Agency in terms of promoting three regions and existing and new tourism products at international tourism fairs.
In recent years, traditions have been created with various festivals and festivals in rural areas that have served the promotion of tourism and local and regional agribusiness and that we hope to return after overcoming this situation.
Is there a concrete calendar supported by your project?
Yes, it is true the project has supported and will continue to support activities that promote villages, products and the extension of the tourist season. They are initiatives by state institutions and it happens that many of these festivals are organized in the areas we intend to support. You may have heard of some of them, such as the Olive Festival, the Apple Festival, the Mandarin Festival, the Chestnut Festival and of course the GIZ initiative to promote the South Coast 'South Outdoor Festival', which is organized by suspended due to pandemic situation. Furthermore, work is underway to organize another festival in northern Albania, which we will announce soon, and we hope to have the chance to implement, depending on the situation from COVID-19. These local and national activities best show what Albania has to offer and we are proud to be part of it.
What other topic not mentioned above is a priority in your project?
Given that many people have left rural areas over the years or have emigrated to other countries to find better living conditions, our goal is through our activities to create prospects here in Albania and especially in rural areas of the country. We have seen many examples of success in agriculture, tourism and agritourism, which show that many things are possible in Albania and that "you can do it here".
Albania is moving towards EU accession despite many challenges that still exist. SRD supports the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development by aligning the Albanian legal and institutional framework with the EU. This includes supporting the new strategy for agriculture, rural development and fisheries 2021-2027 in line with the EU's priorities, requirements and budgetary policy for the Common Agricultural Policy. It includes support for the new IPARD III program in line with the criteria and requirements of the EU Commission to enable the absorption of EU financial support. All this will contribute to increasing the competitiveness of the agricultural sector and the rural economy in general. Furthermore, the SRD is strengthening the capacities of the Agency for Rural Development and Agriculture (ARDA), the Managing Authority of Expansion Services and the Agricultural Technology Transfer Centers (QTTBs) which play an important role in managing the absorption of IPARD funds and in the promotion of innovative solutions, technologies in agriculture and rural areas in general./ATSH