Heading northward from the city of Shkodër, between the lake and the mountain, the Koplik village with red lands and calcareous rocks has a reputation far beyond its humble size. The medicinal herbs that spontaneously grow in this land stuck in between mountains, know how to make the most of it. In the small village in Malësi e Madhe, beside the strong smell of sage and lavender you can also smell success.
The herbs and spice sector provides income to thousands of families who collect and harvest wild and cultivated plants, cleaning and storing them. Current estimates are that over 100,000 families are involved in the sector, and in Northern Albania, it is estimated that MAP farming makes up close to 35 percent of household income. As well, Albania is particularly rich in indigenous species of MAPs – a full fifteen percent of its 360 species are of medicinal, aromatic, or spice value.
But one of the key challenges for MAP cultivators and processors has been the need for more storage facilities to protect their herbs and spices from contamination which lowers the quality and value of the plants when sold. Through the support of U.S. Military and USAID these farmers will have now a new facility building which will be used to address these concerns by providing a clean, dry area to process and store collected plants.
“Albania has many opportunities to grow the sector by tapping into export demand opportunities in international markets. In order to do so, it is important that Albania protect the quality of seeds, seedlings, and plants. For farmers, they should not focus on growing only one specific plant, for example sage, but diversify. This will avoid over production which happened recently and will increase the opportunity to sell their products at optimal prices in the market”, said at the inaugurating ceremony in Koplik, USAID Albania Director, Marcus Johnson.
In order to increase the competitiveness of Albanian MAPs, USAID and its local partner, AAC-Lushnja, an Albanian NGO, are implementing a series of production and market development activities in the region, including supporting the “LUJZ” association to obtain bio-certification of plants, as well to increase the number of MAPs that are being grown for commercial use.
In Koplik alone, there are four collection and processing centers for medicinal and aromatic plants, which earn the town an estimated 6 million euro each year. The most important plant for the sector is sage, which accounts for about 50 per cent of all exports, with an estimated volume of 2,000 to 2,500 tons per year. Other important products include oregano, thyme and winter savoury, making Albania a major international player in the market.
The growing demand for medicinal and aromatic products challenges the ability of the Albanian MAP industry to provide the required quantities of products, according to international quality standards. The latter has been one of the hardest challenges, as a large percentage of wild products collected by rural dwellers contained stones, grass and branches. Consolidators need to invest on acquiring the necessary knowledge and invest in technologies that could reduce the amount of waste material and improve the quality of the products they are trading.
Albanian herbs and medicinal plants supply 70 percent of the US marker and also the markets of France, Germany and Italy. Be for the quality or for the fact that our herbs are grown in wild, fact is that they are starting to smell success over the world.