Albania emerged from decades of communist rule in the early 1990s and a multiparty democracy was established. The process of transition has proven difficult. Corruption is rife and the problems numerous with high unemployment, the collapse of multiple fraudulent pyramid investment schemes, outdated and poorly functioning infrastructure, widespread organized crime, an influx of refugees from the conflict in Kosovo and a confused political climate. Initial elections were held in 2001 with additional ones in 2003 and 2005, but the political situation is far from stable and Albania has the dubious reputation of being one of the poorest nations in Europe.
UMCOR opened an office in Tirana, the capital, in spring 2004. UMCOR Albania is currently implementing an agricultural development program, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) through its Fiscal Year 2004 'Food for Progress' program. UMCOR is also looking to extend its work into other sectors.
UMCOR Albania monetizes agricultural commodities that are donated by the USDA. Monetization introduces food stuffs onto a market where food deficits may exist. It also stimulates the local economy and generates new jobs. Rural communities are largely self-sufficient in Albania although production is often on a subsistence level. The urban population is more dependent on imported food supplies so the sale of imported commodities will not adversely affect domestic prices or the economy. The commodities, in the form of 4,190 Metric Tons (MT) of crude sunflower seed oil, are sold by UMCOR and the proceeds used to implement development activities.
Sunflower Production Support Program
The Sunflower Production Support program is funded with proceeds from monetization activities. The project was designed as part of overall program assistance for the post transition recovery and economic reconstruction of the Balkan region.
The Sunflower Production Support Program in Albania has two goals:
In 2005 UMCOR assisted 350 sunflower farmers in production support activities and it expects that another 500 farmers will receive assistance in 2006. UMCOR’s technical assistance in the form of grants, loans, and training sessions, enabled farmers to cultivate 550 hectares of land in 2005. UMCOR Albania expects that nearly twice the land will be cultivated in the 2006 production season.
A newly established sunflower farmer association supported by the program made history in Albania by delivering raw material to the local processor under a sales contract for the first time. The transaction increased the processor’s production capacity by 100% and profitability increased by almost 10% because sunflower seed could be processed into edible oil grade directly, rather than having to import crude oil.
Before this program began, UMCOR Albania identified and tested the most suitable sunflower seed for Albania. UMCOR Albania then promoted its use with farmers, industry and the Ministry of Agriculture and Food (MOAF).
UMCOR Albania began this program in 2004 by selecting approximately 50 farmers to receive assistance in cooperation with the local Albanian Farmers Union and the MOAF. UMCOR Albania helped form a legal association for these farmers and provided them with subsidized loans to enable them to develop and improve production. UMCOR Albania also selects and supports existing farmer associations and members of other private entrepreneurial farmers committed to growing oil-grade sunflower seed. Beneficiaries receive business support and technical assistance. UMCOR Albania assists with sales negotiations between producers and processors and/or buyers to purchase oil-grade sunflower seed produced under this program.
UMCOR Albania is collaborating with Research Institutes in the Balkan region which positively impacts the project as well as establishing long term research linkages between research institutes at a regional level.
Updated February 2006.
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