R EB I RT H The Italian Cooperation for Sustainable Development of the Olive Sector in Albania The ASDO Programme
R E B I RT H t i r a n a . a i c s . g o v. i t madewithitaly.earth
The Italian Cooperation for Sustainable Development of the Olive Sector in Albania (ASDO) has a purpose to enhance farm viability and competitiveness of Albanian agriculture and primary food processing. The Programme maintains a progressive alignment of Albania with EU standards and helps in the improvement of national food safety and security standards, supporting environmental and product/ process sustainability in Albanian agriculture and sustaining economic conditions of rural families. The above are all to be achieved by reference to OCSE/ DAC Sector 31 Agriculture SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) and by the provision of concessionary loans disbursed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) with the specific objective of supporting the Albanian olive industry through legal, technical and financial instruments. The Albanian olive and extra virgin olive oil sector regulatory and institutional framework has to be aligned with relevant EU Acquis chapters by formulation of a sector development plan, increasing the production of olive certified propagation material and improving the functional-
ity of the certification system. It’s a significant uplift in the competitiveness and quality of primary olive production in Albania. The close compliance with EU standards of olive processing is achieved, notably by the introduction of waste and by-product management and the modernisation of marketing techniques applied to Albanian olive sales and promotion. The Programme, which has been funded by the Italian Cooperation, has a total value of 3 million Euros. Of this sum, 2 million Euros is dedicated to direct farmer support, with 1 million Euros distributed directly to farmers via the Agency for Agriculture and Rural Development (ARDA/AZHBR) in 2019 and another 1 Million to be disbursed in 2021-2022. The beneficiary details are published on the ARDA/AZHBR website under the heading “The Olive Scheme”. The Programme has not only assisted olive oil producers but also the entire value chain of olive production including planting, machinery, olive production, marketing campaigns. It also had a component for training and technical assistance, conducted by Ciheam Bari, aimed at institutional capacity building (QTTB Vlora), in relation to the improvement of native varieties.
THE ALBANIAN GREEN GOLD As a typical Mediterranean Country, Albania, is one of very few in the world to have been blessed with the native Mediterranean olive tree and the ‘liquid gold’ as Homer called it, namely extra virgin olive oil - the most essential ingredient of the Mediterranean diet. Albania, has been cultivating and processing olive for thousands of years. There are currently more than 12 million olive trees in Albania. More than ten percent of these trees are aged between 1,000-3,000 years1. November is the best time of the year to produce high-quality extra virgin olive oil in Albania. Increasing olive plantations and harvests, boosting the processing industry and improving extraction technology would unquestionably enhance Albania’s ranking among world olive oil exporting countries, a market currently dominated by Spain, Italy and Greece which together contribute about 78% of world production and 98% of European production.2 Albania however, is the largest producer of olives in the Western Balkans and the fifth largest producer in Europe.3 1
Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development – Albania (2019)
European Commission - ‘Study on the implementation of conformity checks in the olive oil sector throughout the EU’ (2020)
European Commission - ‘Study on the State of Agriculture in Implementation of conformity checks in the olive oil sector throughout the EU’ (2019)
Largest producers of olives in Europe 7,000,000 6,000,000 5,000,000 4,000,000 3,000,000 2,000,000 1,000,000 0
(Source: ATA, oliveoiltimes.com)
In the following pages you’ll find three success stories of Albanian producers who benefited from the ARDA/AZHBR scheme, and with the monetary assistance of the ASDO Programme have managed to expand their extra virgin olive oil production and radically enhance their prospects. From their own words, you’ll discover three stories of a daily commitment and love for the Albanian land.
High Quality Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil Factory “MUSAI Olive Oil” has been operating since 1995. Our main focus has always been the guarantee and preservation of the highest quality production, which has led our factory to be ranked as one of the top producers of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. We are proud of what we have achieved so far, but of course equipped and qualified for continuous improvement. Our factory is run by Mr. Vesaf Musai, his wife and two children specialising in food technology and marketing. The factory is located in Skrofotina, in the Vlora district, located amidst the centuries-old olive hills. It is these gentle and peaceful hills that supply us with a product so essential for nutrition. Our extra virgin olive oil is organic and certified by Albinspect.
The factory produces oil exclusively from olives of the Vlora area, grown and cultivated organically in one of the richest olive regions in the Country and famous for the presence and cultivation of the indigenous variety of the “KALINJOTI” olive. This type of olive is renowned for its unique qualities, and unparalleled quality when pressed. We have been participating in many International fairs such as the Fancy Food Show in New York and Washington, Foodex in Japan, Biofach in Germany and many others, as the main means of promoting quality Albanian extra virgin olive oil in international markets. The quality of the product has been rewarded with 3 Extra Gold Medals and 5 Gold Medals in International competitions such as Biol in Italy, Croatia, Japan and Hong Kong.
The company has continuously invested in the improvement and perfection of processing technology, with the aim of achieving the highest quality standards of production. This has been made possible thanks to the latest AlfaLaval technological equipment installed in 2019 in the factory. Ongoing support of the Ministry of Agriculture, ARDA and the financial assistance from the Italian Cooperation have contributed to our current success. Our production capacity is 2000 tons per season (October - December) while storage capacity reaches levels of 40,000 litres pa . Oil storage in our factory is under optimal conditions, in a cool environment, well ventilated and using stainless steel tanks certified at source as suitable for storage of food products. The company is a member of the National Association of Organic Producers, the National Association of Olive Oil Producers, and actively cooperates with other business associations and donor organisations or projects in the Country, such as the Italian Cooperation, enabling us to be involved in a remorseless process of learning and continuous improvement of production quality. The Italian know how is an undisputable added value.
Musai produces Extra Virgin Olive Oil of the highest quality. Our products are Bio and Organic certified. This has given our company the opportunity to export its product to American and European markets. Thanks to its high quality, incomparable taste and high nutritional values, this oil is now sold in the markets of New York, California, Switzerland, Hong Kong and other European countries. In the domestic market, the product is positioned in the upper market segment. It is packaged in 0.5 litre glass bottles and labelled with the trade name “MUSAI”. Consumers perceive our extra virgin olive oil as consistent in quality, as confirmed by the ever-increasing network of our customers, with whom we maintain constant contact while receiving from them continuous feedback on the quality of our product. Musai Olive Oil Extra Virgin Olive Oil has a low acidity: lower than 0.4%. The company uses only olives of the Albanian “Kalinjoti” variety, processed under cold pressing conditions enabling the oil to retain all its renowned nutritional and curative properties. 12
In 2019, new investments have been made in the factory to improve and perfect our working and production conditions, adapting them to European standards. The application of new technology has enabled quadrupled production and storage capacity, always with the aim of meeting customer requirements.
A note on Agritourism: In the last five years many foreign tourists have come to Albania to enjoy extra virgin olive oil tourism. It is considered an interesting way of getting to know the Albanian culture and cuisine through comprehensive olive oil tours and explanations of our Mediterranean diet. During the tour, the methodology of processing and obtaining extra virgin organic olive oil is explained in detail as well as the chemical and physical qualities of the olive oil, with the tour ending with a tasting experience demonstrating all the techniques through smell and taste.
By promoting Kalinjoti olives as a special product of the territory and their curative values, the popularity of this type of tourism is increasing from year to year. The age profile of a tourist who visits our factory is on average at least 45 years old and within the affluent customer segment.
Professionalism, Passion, Dedication, and Purity are the four pillars of Musai Olive Oil’s philosophy. Passion combined with an ambitious strategy lead to a robust enterprise. The entrepreneur must be courageous and visionary, but most importantly, the entrepreneur must be practical. The staff have an important role to play in the process and thorough training and longevity are essential. We believe that maintaining this philosophy and making the best use of our natural resources, will ensure our continuing success.
KUQJA – VAJ ULLIRI
Between the years of 1995-99, the brothers Ndriçim and Behar Kuqja emigrated to Greece to support and provide for their families they had left behind in Albania. With the money they earned and saved, they opened a small business for the manufacture of railings for doors and windows on their family property in Shirgjan in the Elbasan area. At the same time, they acquired some state lands for under a 99 year lease. 3 hectares of unused land were made ready for planting 800 olive roots. The land was quite suitable to give high quality yields of olives since the Lower Slope, Upper Slope, Krraba, Elbasan, and Tregana areas are well known for their olive cultivation. The Kuqja brothers opened a factory for the collection of olives and the extraction of the olive oil. In 2015, in Tregan, Elbasan, they opened the first Olive Factory with the Italian olive oil machinery “Pieralisi”, with a capacity of 14 quintals per hour. They secured the money through a loan of 135,000 euros. During that time the farmers’ demand to supply olives to the factory was quite high, while the capacity of the factory was rather low. The brothers thought of selling the factory and buying another one with a much larger capacity that could meet the demands of the nearby farmers.
We made an application and submitted it to the Agency for Agricultural and Rural Development (ARDA) for grants given by the Italian Cooperation, and in July 2019 we won the sum of 140,000 euros, say the brothers. We sold the small factory and invested in the new factory with the same Italian production “Pieralisi”, but with a capacity of 40 quintals per hour this time, one of the most advanced of its kind. It should be mentioned here that in order to as18
semble such a large amount of money we had also taken a loan from Intesa San Paolo Bank with a monthly installment of 1500 euros, repayable within 8 years. In addition to the factory the brothers also have a small family hotel in the thermal baths of Tregan village, which has a capacity of 100 clients, and from whose profit’s debt can be serviced. The peculiarity of this plant is that the olives are dry pressed without water. The olives are of a high quality, due to the suitable climate conditions of this area, but also to the fact that their fertilisation is done only with cattle manure, which makes the oil of very high quality. With these two businesses, the family manages to ensure the welfare of its 11 members, but also to employ 5 seasonal workers. The main problem faced is providing a packaging line to enable distribution in the local market and compete with other established brands. To meet this requirement involves another loan soon as with no branded packaging the company can only supply extra virgin olive oil to the nearby area and local restaurants and businesses. Our future strategy is to establish the packing line in order to grow and enter the wider local market as well as to develop an overall marketing strategy leading to eventual penetration of foreign markets in the manner of the other companies that operate within the Albanian market and beyond.
SHKALLA SH is a family business established in Farka, a village near Tirana, that has been running for over 100 years. It began when the grandfather of Ms. Shkalla received a mill as a dowry after marrying a girl in the village whose parents were olive oil mill producers. This gift made him start his own business in 1945, the year when the communist regime in Albania prohibited any sort of private business under a rule which continued until 1991. In the early 90s, with the collapse of the communist regime, a part of the inherited lands were returned to the family. There were, among others, 150 olive roots. Our family encountered difficulties in processing them for oil, because in Tirana at the time there was only one oil factory. Sometimes we had to wait over a week and the olives were spoiled and as a result the oil was inedible. Ms. Shkalla returned from Germany in 1995 where she had been living for a few years. She was encouraged by her father to build an olive oil factory given that the grandfather had earlier built an oil mill to exploit the olives of Farke village and the surrounding villages, thus continuing a decades-old family tradition.
The Shkalla family recommenced the business and founded the new company in Lundra/Tirana, in 1996. A year later, in 1997 the first machinery was purchased but the difficulties were extraordinary, especially when the civil war broke out later that same year (1997). The Albanian currency was devalued to the point that the interest rate on bank loans went up to 38%. Being a woman in an agricultural business had many challenges, the income was very low and the business could have easily gone bankrupt. However, it survived the most difficult period and now, SHKALLA has become one of the leading suppliers of Extra Virgin Olive Oil in the Albanian market, employing advanced technology to improve the quality of olive oil and its processing/ milling systems. Organic quality also opened up foreign market opportunities and In 2003 SHKALLA SH Company obtained certification from Bio Inspecta, from Switzerland. In the same year, SHKALLA SH Company started exporting Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil to Switzerland. The BIO Swiss certification and the success in the Swiss market led the company in to search for new opportunities for business development. Becoming a member of the Organic Agriculture Society allowed the company to develop a wide contact network, which helped the business proceed to another level. This opportunity paved the way to the current success that Shkalla Sh is enjoying.
QUALITY PRIZE IN THE “BIOL MEDITERRANEO” COMPETITION
In 2005, the olive oil SHKALLA SH won the ‘’QUALITY SPECIAL AWARD’’ in the “BIOL” competition for the best extra virgin olive oil. In 2006 SHKALLA SH won another quality prize in the “BIOL MEDITERRANEO” competition. In 2007, SHKALLA products entered the catalogue of the one hundred best extra virgin olive oils in the world. For many years now since 2005, Shkalla Sh wins the yearly prize of the best extra virgin olive oil in Albania.
Attaining such an achievement is related to close cooperation with farmers for the provision of the high-quality raw materials. SHKALLA SH owns some of the olive groves which it fully harvests. The company collaborates with other farming groups in the best situated olive groves around the country; in places such as Tirana, (Farka, Vrap), as well as in other locations of the country such as Lushnja (Dushk), Fier (Gorishovë), and the southern coastline. All farming groups, follow thoroughly the seasonal handling and harvesting, following the proper ripening time in order to reach the best quality of the olive oil production. It’s worth mentioning here that native species of these areas such as ‘Ulliri i Bardhë i Tiranës’ (The White Tirana Olive) and ‘Kalinjoti’ olives have consistent quality in the oil production process as well as excellent decanting properties. In addition, foreign olives cultivated in Albania are those called the ‘Frantoi’ and ‘Koroneiki’ olives which equally contribute to our excellent quality of extra virgin olive oil. 25
Starting from its foundation and until today, the company constantly has been supported by many projects operating in Albania which are undoubtedly part of our company’s success. These projects in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture of Albania made possible the participation of the company in international fairs including in Germany, the US, and other places. More recently, with support from PROMAS and the Albanian Agency for Agricultural and Rural Development (ARDA) that offered financial assistance from the Italian Cooperation, the company had the opportunity to install in 2019 Alfa Laval equipment involving some of the world’s most advanced olive oil processing technology of which the company is proud. This help made it possible to double production capacity. Our brand philosophy is that only the best raw materials are used to make our Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil that is extracted with the most exquisite flavour and packaged into a luxury glass bottle. Albania is not part of the European Union yet, but we consider ourselves to be fully European extra virgin olive oil producers.
Kuqja – Kalinjoti Vaj Ulliri (Indipendent oil)
Steel tanks 18-20 °C
Hand picking Alfa Laval Steel tanks three-phase 18-23 °C continuous cycle
Elbasan 50% Hand N.d. picking 50% mechanical
Method of harvest
Area of origin
Koroneiki Elbasan Hand picking Pieralisi M3 Steel tanks three-phase 12-18 °C continuous cycle
Intensity of positive attributes (on a scale of 1-10)
Notes of aromatic herbs: Rosemary, mint, licorice
Notes of ripe white fruit (banana, apple)
Notes of green grass and spices
Light fruity, bitterness is slightly present and pungency is distinct, with harmonic aromatic notes of mint and licorice.
Light fruity, slightly bitter and distinct pungency. Harmonic with light notes of ripe white fruit (Golden apple).
Medium-intense green fruity, with very pleasant herbaceous hints. Its taste is fine and complex. Pungency is penetrating and persistent, but harmonic and in good balance with the fruitiness and bitterness.
Tasting Session on 10/03/2021 at UNAPROL – Italian Olive Consortium
Ambasciata d’Italia Tirana
The extra virgin olive oil in Albania.