The EU is set to inject some €112 million into Albanian agricultural and rural development, including sustainability, agro-tourism and organic farming, under the IPARD III program announced on Wednesday.
The program covers the period 2021 to 2027 and aims to support sustainable food systems by strengthening the competitiveness of the agri-food sector and progressively aligning it with the EU acquis. Furthermore, it aims to improve the efficiency and sustainability of on-farm production to meet the demand for safe, nutritious and sustainable food and animal welfare.
Other key principles of the initiative include facilitating business development and employment in rural areas and improving the position of farmers in the value chain. He also hopes to attract more farmers to the area and improve community development at the local level.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said the money would open doors for those who want to work and develop the sector in Albania.
“This massive EU funding opens an even wider avenue for anyone looking to grow their business. What is happening is an extraordinary innovation in the rural life of our country, which has been delayed,” Rama said.
Agriculture Minister Frida Krifca, for her part, said the funds “would provide an opportunity for Albanian agriculture to develop like never before, new greenhouses, agro-tourism, collection points, tractors and other power tools”. she says.
Previous funding under IPARD II enabled the government to make significant improvements in the sector, she added. “People are being hired, startups are being supported, production quality standards have increased,” she also said.
The Albanian government will add another €34m to the EU figure, bringing the total to €146m.
The funds will be divided into tranches which will be disbursed over the years of the program. The largest sum, some 31.4 million euros, is reserved for investments in the physical assets of farmers, to which are added 30 million euros for investments in assets for the processing and marketing of agricultural products.
Some 2.1 million euros will be used to develop organic farming. Albania recently pledged to meet the EU Green Deal target of 25% of all agricultural land being farmed organically by 2030, a 100% increase from the current amount .
Other significant investments include €21.3 million for farm diversification and business development and €12 million for rural public infrastructure.
Regarding the 2030 target, Krifca pledged at the 33rd Regional Conference for Europe in Poland, hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations last week,
“Albania is committed to expanding the use of organic farming methods to meet the EU target of 25% organic farmland…we are still a long way off, but with the help from various partners, we are striving to achieve this,” she said.
Krifca noted that many farmers fear that the green transition will negatively affect their livelihoods and their ability to feed people at affordable costs. She continued that it is possible to make the transition while ensuring continued agricultural production to meet the needs of the population.
Albania has significant potential to develop its agricultural system, but this has been hampered by economic difficulties and a lack of investment. During 50 years of communist rule, agricultural land was divided into cooperatives and cultivated for state needs. However, cracks began to appear in this system early on, and much of the country struggled with food shortages and starvation.
After the end of the regime, the land was returned to farmers who were woefully underprepared and lacked the necessary machinery, infrastructure and know-how. After being cut off from the rest of the world for almost 50 years, a lot had changed in the agricultural sector and Albania needed to catch up.
Yet by 2022, progress remains slow as successive governments have failed to make sustainability and agriculture a priority. Farmers have also been reluctant to adopt new techniques, invest in new machinery or processes, or adapt their products to market needs. Any suggestion of a cooperative approach to farming is met with resistance due to the communist heritage.
The program will start disbursing from early 2023, but the government hopes some funds will be available by the end of the year.