Interview with lavdosh ferruni

Co-founder of the Organic Agriculture Association of Albania

Conducted by Adèle Pautrat in February 2023

Lavdosh Ferruni presenting the painting he and his wife gave Seeds4All on the occasion of the trip to Belgrade © Hannes Lorenzen

Dear Lavdosh, could you tell me about the Organic Agricultural Association of Albania and its work towards farmers, rural communities and regional stakeholders?

The Organic Agricultural Association was established in Albania in 1997. It has recently initiated a community project for seed saving in the renowned region of Korça, where farmers have inherited seeds for generations and take pride in their work with seeds. Despite facing high pressure from the seed industry, these farmers have remained committed to their work with seeds, which provides stability in local food systems.

OAA is now a member of the Balkan Seed Network. We believe that joining forces to address fundamental issues like seeds is crucial for ensuring food security and tackling climate change, especially for future generations.

We also support the production of important crops for our communities, like beans. Most families in Albania grow beans for their own consumption. It is a basis of our food, and a very important crop in terms of ecological benefits: absorbing CO2, fertilizing the soil, and helping other crops to reach better yields. With the aim of supporting its production worldwide we’ve also joined the Global Bean project.

Through these connections to regional and European organisations, we hope to create strong partnerships for exchanging knowledge, support, and seeds as well as for making a meaningful contribution to these important issues.

You mentioned that farmers in Albania are not under big pressure from the seed industry. What is the legal framework regarding seed exchanges and marketing between farmers in Albania?

The farmers are keeping the seeds for themselves and exchanging them. They have the right to do it, they don’t have any legal restrictions. Many Albanian farmers are still working traditionnally. They are resisting to the modernization of agriculture, keeping a strong connection to nature.

Do you know approximately the percentage of people working in agriculture in Albania?

Nearly half of Albania's population resides in rural areas, with the great majority of them being one way or another involved with agriculture and food production. In parallel, Albania's agricultural landscape is dominated by small-scale farms. And I believe this is a sign of success, particularly in terms of caring for and maintaining soil fertility.

Apart from the predominance of small-scale farms, what is the situation chemicals and machinery use?

In Albania farmers are using much less chemicals that in the EU. Industrial agriculture almost doesn’t exist, except for some rather intensive farms. But the majority stocks to the traditional model with less mechanization and pesticides. This is partly linked to the relief. The country being 3/4 made up of mountains and rugged terrain, it is complicated to envisage intensive agriculture.

Of course, keeping traditions doesn't mean sticking to the past. Albanian farmers are also enriching their practices with modern knowledge from scientific research. But they resist well to intensive agriculture.

So, in that situation, what are the local challenges with agrobiodiversity?

Small-scale model often goes with fragmented, and diversified agricultural activity, and minimal monoculture. Albanian farms grow a variety of crops, which are used for both self-sufficient production and commercial distribution. As the farmers prioritize meeting the needs of their communities, they must maintain diversified crops. This emphasizes the importance of seed preservation and adaptation to their changing needs and climate conditions. By preserving and adapting seeds, farmers can feel more secure and better equipped to handle the challenges that come with agricultural production.

The challenge for Albania would therefore be to ensure that these traditional and sustainable practices at rural level are kept and preserved?

While the Balkans have not escaped the global trend of loss of agrobiodiversity, it has been significantly less severe than in other regions of the EU. The survival of traditional farming practices has definitely contributed to the natural preservation and enhancement of genetic resources. I’m not saying that all farmers work that way but a good number of them do and they must keep doing it. It is crucial to recognize the import role of rural population in that preservation as well. Supporting rural development in various ways, such as providing farmers with opportunities to sell their seeds and products while allowing rural communities to participate in development, is essential

Can you tell me more about the project and activities you implemented in Korça?

Over the last three years, our association has been cultivating a diverse range of crops on a 2000 square meter plot of land in Korça, south-Albania, for seed production and enhancement of local varieties. We’ve opened a Community Seed Bank (CSB) and distribute the seeds to local farmers, as well as gene banks to preserve them ex-situ. Throughout the seasons, we collaborate with around 10 to 20 farmers. Although we are satisfied with our current progress, we aspire to expand our efforts.

To collect and breed as much varieties as possible, we conduct experiments with seeds obtained from national gene banks, planting them on our land and observing in particular their adaptation to climate change. We also rescue varieties from old farms which are about to die. Some very rare varieties were found that way and even if it is not always possible to reproduce them on a large scale, at least we preserve a sample. We strongly believe that more farmers equal more varieties. Many farmers have kept varieties that have helped us discover much more genetic resources than what is currently being kept ex-situ in gene banks.

In Korça we grow many different species that are very important in the Albanian food culture, such as beans, peas, tomatoes, or corn. Focusing on landraces and spreading them back to the country is a way of enriching our seed heritage, allowing for new breeding opportunities and strengthening food sovereignty and security.

Our work also aims to promote the importance of agrobiodiversity to various groups such as farmers, decision-makers, teachers, students and researchers. We have even provided certificates to some farmers, featuring the organic association and CSB logos, which they use to add value to their products and get a sense of pride.

Im convinced that the most crucial aspect for involving consumers in choosing agrobiodiversity is the taste though. It is the primary reason why people are willing to pay more for food products. While promoting the social and ecological benefits of agrobiodiversity is essential, it is the discovery of an exceptional flavour that truly convinces consumers. That’s why it is vital to work on both aspects simultaneously, when raising awareness in society about the benefits of agrobiodiversity.

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