ALBANIA - TRADITION MEETS ENTHUSIASM
Although only 700 km away from the Waldviertel, Shkodra in the north of Albania, seems like another world.
The mild climate of Albania provides ideal conditions for Mediterranean herbs. What struggles in the harsh climate of the Waldviertel, flourishes under the hot Albanian sun.
In recent years, Johannes Gutmann has had many great experiences with farming projects in South Moravia and Romania. Albania is different – yet three years ago, he took the step to explore this region with its traditionally small-scale agriculture: "Albania is only one and a half times the size of Lower Austria. Farms average no more than two hectares which is ideal for growing special herbs as farmers know their herbs, know how to grow and harvest them the right way. "
The cooperation started as a development aid project under the supervision of the ADA (Austrian Development Agency) to improve the livelihoods of Albanian farmers. Of the 400 trained farmers, 20 changed to organic farming and started working together with SONNENTOR. Another 100 people gather wild herbs. Many Albanians are true herbalists who have cultivated and expanded their knowledge over the last decades under Communist rule, which after the break with the USSR was oriented towards the Chinese culture.
Endrit Kullaj, our local partner, is a major contributor and promoter of increasing the value of the work Albanian farmers do. We also support the companies in gaining organic certification to carry the ecological idea further. We estimate that at least 100 jobs were created in the first year (2007).
A collaboration with Adventure
The whole family helps with the field work. There are always additional helpers at harvest time. These are also necessary, for example, when harvesting cornflowers. Carefully, flowers are picked by hand. Ten tons will be taken to SONNENTOR. Johannes Gutmann: "Almost no one does this in Austria any more, most things are harvested by machine."
There are no machines in Albania at all. The farmers have a small tractor at best. Sowing, weeding and harvesting is done by hand and donkeys or cows are used for transport. Why even use motorised vehicle? They would not get very far in the remote mountain villages as roads are very basic and there are hardly any bridges. Whoever wants to cross the river wades through it at shallow spots.
For foreign companies, however, it is far from easy to gain a foothold in Albania. Johannes Gutmann understands the importance of the personal connection with the people and drives to Albania two or three times a year: "To get to know the local conditions, to get in touch with the culture, to gain people’s trust, and to visit the farmers at home.
Organic control: Austrian know-how for Albania
A separate company was founded for the acquisition of goods, export and training of farmers. Organic control is carried out by the Austrian inspectors of the Austria Bio Guarantee, which was established on site for supervision and is integrated with the Albanian control centre Albinspect. Johannes Gutmann highlights the importance of regular soil tests: "In some fields we have found residues of poisons that have been used in vegetable cultivation from 40 years ago. The farmers could hardly believe how long these poisons remain in the soil. "
We obtain following products from Albania:
strawberry leaves org.
hazelnut leaves org.
bay leaves org.
lemon verbena org.
linden (lime) flowers org.
common mallow flowers org.
raspberry leaves org.
dandelion leaves org.
blackberry leaves org.
juniper berries org.
sunflower petals org.
Greek Mountain Tea org.