The European Union sees Agriculture as a hot ticket for Albania’s growth. The sector could turn to be the powerhouse of the Albanian economy. To set this in stone in the next four years Albania will receive 71 million euro funds (2016-2020) from the European Union, while together with the national co-financing and the private sector's contribution the total investment figure in agriculture totals EUR 180 million for the same period.

"This is real money going to the agricultural production and processing,” said, the Head of Political and Economic Section at the European Union to Albania Jan Rudolph stressing that this broad support will be used to further move the country forward and ultimately lift it onto a new level.

The agricultural sector according to Rudolph is of outmost importance for Albania and will have a special place in future enlargement negotiations. EU has been supporting the sector since the early 90s and is the biggest donor in agriculture, rural development, veterinary, food safety and fisheries.

“Yes, indeed, the agricultural sector is of utmost importance in Albania. This is a huge opportunity for Albanian agricultural sector and especially for farmers”, said earlier in an interview for Agroweb, Yngve Engstrom, Head of Cooperation at the EU Delegation to Albania  and high EU Representative noting that the sector holds the most potential to drive forward the country.

The Agriculture sector employs approximately 50% of the Albanian workforce and accounts for almost 20% of the country's GDP.

In practical terms the implementation of the “IPARD-like” grants from the EU would mean modern technologies and techniques entering the sector; agricultural producers and processors applying with projects fulfilling stricter requirements and bringing more value added to the sector and society; raising of competitiveness of the agriculture and agro-processing sector.

“In the context of the three IPARD-like calls, Albanian farmers and agro-processors submitted a total of 255 applications with a total applied investment of 46 million EURO and a total applied grant of 24 million EURO. This shows both the high demand for capital investments in the agro-food sector and the farmers high interest in the IPARD-like grant scheme. All together 88 contracts have been signed for a total EU contribution of 6 million EUR. This is real, fresh, money going to agricultural production and processing”, said Engstrom for Agroweb stressing also the importance of partnership with the private sector.

“Banks shouldn’t be sitting on their money. They need to easy the financing for this sector which is vital to the economy”, he stressed.

“Farming indeed “a factory under the open air” and the dependence on climatic and weather conditions is substantial. That is why we have decided to specifically target the rural credits via guarantees and the Rural Credit Guarantee Fund has been established via an EU project, co-financed by the national authorities. Hence, already the Albanian farmers will have the opportunity to benefit from the services provided for the guaranteeing the loans. I would like also to encourage the agricultural sector to make good use not only of the Fund but of all the opportunities available under the EU programmes and projects”, Engstrom said.

But the EU would also like to see and agricultural sector complying with food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary standards, while becoming competitive in the national and international markets.

A successful agriculture industry in any country and especially in the EU requires the many players in the value chain to work closely together. That’s what is also required for Albania.
Just imagine a vibrant market in a village in the northern part of Albania, filled with vendors selling lush tomatoes, hearty ears of corn, ripe apples, and a myriad of other fruits, vegetables, and grains. Where did all that food come from? Where did the farmers get the financing to buy the seeds and fertilizer they needed? What research institutions developed the seed varieties that thrived in local agro-ecological conditions? How did farmers learn the agriculture techniques to produce high-quality crops? And how did farmers get those high-quality crops from their farms to the market?

By being closely linked to the chain value, the EU is trying to build in the Albanian agriculture sector, by abiding it with the know-how, the new technologies and the new standards. The time of farmers using the wooden plow to till the soil does is over. This is the time for a transformation of the Agriculture sector, which will provide us for the ticket of growth and get us closer to the EU./Agroweb.org/