An EU-funded study maps the state of agriculture in Albania and suggests areas where Union standards are needed most.
By Lindita Komani for Southeast European Times in Tirana -- 04/08/14
EU officials have advised Albania to implement Union agricultural standards. [AFP]
Agriculture comprises a fifth of Albania's GDP and employs more than half of the country's population, but the EU recently proposed the country implement Union standards to improve competitiveness.
Experts said implementation of EU standards and greater farmer collaboration will further increase the sector's gains and competitiveness.
"Sustaining public goods such as environmental protection, conservation of biodiversity, soil fertility and water quality, animal and plant health and rural development dimension is the basis of the European Common Agriculture Policy," said Yngve Engstrom, head of operations for the EU delegation to Albania.
A recent EU-financed survey published this summer showed that more than two-thirds of Albanian farmers are willing to collaborate to produce and trade.
The Interim Agreement on Trade and trade-related matters between the European Community and Albania, which entered into force in 2006, foresees that the parties "shall gradually establish a free-trade area over a period lasting a maximum of 10 years starting from the date of entry into force of this Agreement."
While free trade will become a reality by 2017, the EU particularly insisted that Albania implement the rules on food hygiene and official quality control.
But the survey also showed 90 percent of farmers do not regularly analyse arable land, nearly that many do not pack up their products, and 85 percent still rely on traditional, non-industrial methods to cure diseases of plants and livestock.
Experts also said an informal sector directly impacts Albania's free trade opportunities with the EU in the future.
"Informality does hinder traceability and without traceability no exports can take place -- documents of origin depend on this. Albanian products cannot enter the supermarket chains as no invoices can be provided by farmers who are not formally registered," Alban Zusi, deputy agriculture minister, said.
The survey also showed nearly 90 percent of Albanian farmers are not registered and do not have a tax ID number.
Informality also affects the farmers' ability to apply for EU grants. Only 13 percent of farmers have benefited from EU assistance, according to the survey, but one quarter seek grants and other benefits.
The European Union considers the potential demand from Albanians eager to invest in their agricultural businesses. Alongside the EUs investment, which amounts so far to 27.7 million euros, there is an additional 12.2 million euros planned to be contributed through the IPA 2013 programme, Engtrom said.
Albania is mainly concentrated now on increasing overall investments, and grant and subsidy beneficiaries have applied for projects that seek to establish technological lines, accumulation points, standardisation lines, greenhouses, warming technologies and processing technologies.
"We are convinced that it is this kind of investment that has the highest impact on production, accumulation and export," Edmond Haxhinasto, agriculture minister, said.
The reforms include efforts to encourage farmers to bring their products to central warehouses so they can be paid and the products registered by the government, Haxhinasto said.
"By inviting the farmer to deliver and by paying at the time of delivery, we reach also our ambition and aim to identify the farmer, to register and formalise him," he said.
What can Albania do to implement EU standards in the agricultural sector? Share your opinion in the comments section.