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Traveling workshop along the wine and olive route

Traveling workshop along the wine and olive route

The traveling workshop along the wine and olive route in the rural areas of Tirana and Durrës counties was organized on November 14-15. The workshop saw around 20 participants representing various rural development actors. It was attended by representatives from the municipalities located in this area  such as the Municipality of Durrës, Vora, Shijak; representatives from the Durrës county; representatives from central institutions such as the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), the Agriculture and Rural Development Agency (ARDA); representatives from member organizations of the Albanian Network for Rural Development, representatives from microcredit institutions, as well as experts on regional development. Initial participation was considered even wider, including representatives from other municipalities in the area, donors supporting integrated rural development and other actors in the sector, and media representatives that were not able to attend the event.

The workshop aimed to inform the participants about the rural communities of the Central Albania (Tirana-Durrës counties), traditionally known for soft hillside landscapes, lined with vineyards and olive groves, for diverse agricultural and livestock production, rich tradition, culture and human capital but at the same time a territory where the countryside collides strongly with aggressive urban development that threatens the balances and sustainability of the area’s future.

Just as Marcel Proust has stated that discovering doesn’t just mean traveling far to find new things but also looking with another eye at what nature and man have also created next to you, this workshop made us look at it from a different perspective, facts, ideas, realities and characters who often go unnoticed before our eyes, even though they are constantly looking for evidence in their daily efforts towards development and prosperity.

Traveling on the wine and olive route was accompanied by interaction and stops in the wine cellars and olive oil workshops, local businesses and rural communities, as well as direct exchanges with residents. This informal activity allowed the testing of theories and policies against objective reality, as well as the experiences and opinions of residents of rural communities. The workshop included brief introductory sessions and discussions on territorial approach initiatives – an approach that focuses on a small, homogeneous social territory, often characterized by shared traditions, a local identity and sense of belonging or common needs and expectations, as a targeted area for policy implementation.

This event was organized in the framework of the project ‘Consolidating the role of Albanian Network for Rural Development toward a functional model of bottom-up and participatory perspective in national rural agenda’, supported by the European Union and implemented by the Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM) in partnership with AgriNET and AgroPUKA organizations.

The interland of wine and olive route

The rural areas that lie in the districts of Tirana and Durrës are rich in vineyards and olive trees, including centuries-old olive trees. The soft hills covered with olives and vineyards have created a suitable terrain for the production of olive oil and wines. Throughout the rural area, there are a considerable number of wineries and olive oil factories known for their product quality, not only in the Albanian market but also internationally. Acknowledging the potential growth of the area, it has been invested over the years by development actors for the creation of Interland Wine and Olive Road to connect producers with each other and turn them into tourist destinations visitable throughout the year.

The wineries that we had the opportunity to visit produce various types of high-quality wines well known in the international market. They offered wine tasting opportunities, visits to the wineries and vineyards around them. Similarly, the olive oil workshops offered to visitors the opportunity to follow closely the process of processing olive oil, tasting of olive oil and olives, and visits to centuries-old olive groves. Many of the products from the workshops have also won awards at international fairs thanks to the quality and characteristics of the extra virgin bio-olive oil they produce.

Photo: Interland of wine and olive route

Workshop Session: Territorial Cohesion in Rural Communities of Wine and Olive Road

The workshop focused on presenting and discussing initiatives regarding territorial approaches – an approach that focuses on the targeted area for policy implementation which is a small, homogeneous social territory often characterized by shared traditions, local identity and a sense of belonging and shared needs and expectations. Having such an area as a reference facilitates the identification of local strengths and weaknesses, threats and opportunities, endogenous potential, and identification of key barriers to sustainable development[i].  Considering the territorial development-based approach, identifying a subregion with shared development potentials would help to identify possible intervention scenarios to promote the economic and territorial development of communities crossing the wine and olive route.

Based on the above, the workshop brought to the attention of participants the LEADER approach – a connection between rural economy and development actions – an EU policy instrument for the integrated development of rural areas. The LEADER approach – an instrument promoted by the European Commission since 1990 proposes “bottom-up” or community-driven local development. The Local Action Group (LAG) stands at the heart of the LEADER approach for the development of the area and the involvement of the local population in decision making.

The Wine and Olive Route community represents a community with cultural and territorial specificities. The territorial identity and developmental cohesion of the whole area becomes an important cornerstone for the sustainable development of the area. For this reason, a general presentation on the LEADER approach, including key features of the approach, concrete steps for the practical implementation of this approach, etc., was developed to foster discussions with participants.

“This area is very suitable for the creation of a Local Action Group. However, it is essential that all stakeholders sit on a table to discuss and this process to be characterized by mutual trust”- said one of the participants in the workshop.

Discussions were focused on the following questions:

  • Where do municipalities stand in terms of implementing the LEADER approach? Are they prepared with the knowledge, skills and capacity to initiate the creation of a local action group in their territories?
  • What is the situation for civil society organizations and other stakeholders to get involved in such a venture? What about private enterprise?

The discussion was also stimulated by the information that the LEADER approach is a measure of the IPARD II Program, expected to be supported in the coming years. One of the expected outcomes of the event is related to the encouragement of local actors, both public and non-public, in initiating an animation process of the territory and local actors for the creation of a Local Action Group on the wine and olive route. Such an initiative would represent the instrument to valorize all the territorial potential and enrich the tourism offer of the area, which would promote sustainable rural development in the local community.

The following is a summary of the main discussion topics during the traveling workshop:

  • Olive oil factories’ lack of licensing is a problem for Albania and all the enterprises in the area of ​​Tirana and Durrës. Granting licenses would give an assurance on local products that already are having a high demand in the market;
  • Following this event, it is important to list the actors operating in the area according to the municipalities. This is a good start for the initiation process of the LAG establishment. Meanwhile, the adoption of the Law on the Establishment and Functioning of Local Action Groups within 2019 is expected, even though it has exceeded the time expectations;
  • There is still no concrete action from the responsible structures regarding the implementation of the LEADER approach. It would be useful to organize a regional workshop with the local stakeholders in the next two months and to materialize the creation of a LAG. It should be borne in mind that the creation of the LAG should be preceded by investment and preparatory work because it is needed to build the capacities of the people who are currently unprepared. Institutions must trust the LAG and its legal framework. A minimum of 4-5 actors (local authorities, CSOs, private enterprises, etc.) should be identified and included from each municipality in the area. The creation of the nucleus of LAG would be a smart move.
  • One of the participants considered this workshop as the first initiative for the creation of LAG. There is currently not much information on the LAGs and their initiatives. The suggestion stands for the next Rural Parliament, which should give an important place to the division of initiatives for the establishment of LAGs.
  • It was also underlined that there are good indicators for the establishment of a LAG, but this process should be based on a complete legal framework. It is also important to improve the performance of the extension service and its level of technical preparation;
  • Representatives of the municipalities participating in the event expressed the willingness of the local government administration unit for the support and cooperation for the benefit of rural development;
  • The inclusion of Agricultural Directorates in municipalities and the extension service with its specialists would be valuable for the process of mobilization of actors;
  • Assistance in rural development processes is also provided by banking institutions that can influence sustainable rural development through the adaptation of banking policies to the specifics of different rural areas;
  • At the end of the discussions, the emphasis was placed on the importance of the Rural Parliament platform which must necessarily become a regulatory framework for rural development;
  • The Albanian Rural Parliament II, to be held in the spring of 2020, will focus on advocacy for national schemes on agricultural financing and rural development. It remains to be seen where Albania stands in comparison with other Western Balkan countries. The relationship between national schemes and EU financial support should also be clarified. The role of local government in the design, implementation, and decision-making cycle needs to be increased. Moreover, in the face of lack of trust that farmers have in regards to institutions, transparency, and accountability in the scheme management process needs to be improved.

The meeting of the Albanian Network for Rural Development Board was also part of the event agenda. The most important decision agreed upon relates to the organization of the second Albanian Rural Parliament. Specifically, the Board decided on the organization of four regional rural parliaments during February 2020:

  • Drini Regional Rural Parliament (Shkodra-Lezha-Kukës counties)
  • Arber Regional Rural Parliament (Durrës-Tirana-Dibër counties)
  • Vjosa Regional Rural Parliament (Vlorë-Fier-Gjirokastër counties)
  • Egnatia Regional Rural Parliament (Korçë-Elbasan-Berat)

Following the organization of the four regional parliaments, the Albanian Rural Parliament II will be organized in March 2020.

‘Charles Telford Ericson’ National Vocational High School, Golem, Kavaja, was one of the last stops planned in this traveling workshop.

Founded in 1925, the school has laid the foundation of a modern institution in the field of vocational education, as well as the application of contemporary methods in Albanian agriculture and livestock.  Already modernized and adapted to the demands of the labor market, the school continues successfully its activity in preparing the Economics and Agriculture Specialists of the future. School administration and staff get us acquainted with the school, its history, achievements over the years and its current challenges.

Below is provided a brief information[ii] on the wineries and olive oil factories we visited on this trip:

‘3 FRIENDS’ Olive Oil Factory – Ndroq, Tirana

The ‘3 Friends’ factory processes a variety of white and black olives. The factory offers the opportunity to visit its premises and see the process of processing olive oil for foreign and domestic tourists. The products of this factory have been presented at national and international fairs, earning quality certificates and recognition.

SHEHI Winery – Farka e Madhe (TEG)

It is a family run by the five Shehi brothers that intertwine modernity with the traditional setting among olive groves, different varieties of grapes and different fruit trees. The winery offers wine tasting and traditional products.

Herta Winery – Maminas, Durres

Herta winery is run by the Osmani family. The winery includes vineyards consisting of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Trebbiano and White grape. It is a family investment that combines the new spirit and the experience of generations. It also offers various kinds of baked bread, as well as artisan goat cheese to the guests.

KOKOMANI Winery – Gjepale, Shijak

The winery is known for its very high-quality and very special in fragrance and taste wines. Thanks to the long experience of fifteen years of work in most famous wineries of Tuscany, Italy, and based on the ancient Albanian tradition of vineyard cultivation and winemaking, its entrepreneurs have turned the winery into a favorite agro-tourist destination.

[i] http://enrd.ec.europa.eu/enrd-static/leader/leader/leader-tool-kit/the-leader-approach/ëhy-is-leader-specific/en/area-based-approach_en.html

[ii] The information on the above-mentioned enterprises is based on the Wine and Olive Route Catalog, developed by the Agency for Regional Development 2 and the Ministry of Tourism and Environment.

Photos of the activity: