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The kitchen herbs and the road to success with bio-products

Kitchen herbs photoLiving and working among the perfume of the best kitchen herbs in the world, planting, cultivating and finally preparing them for the market, seems such an exciting job to do, yet if we reflect for a while on the past years, we shall soon comprehend that one of the greatest producers of the kitchen herbs in Albania did not share the same opinion in the past and there is a reason to it: The lack of a market and economic options for the enhancement of business, as well as the high temperatures, without disregarding the ill famed image of the “Made in Albania” products, had trapped Arben Islami, into a series of dilemmas. Arben told his story to a group of journalists during a media tour.

Unbelievable as it may sound, he just started his activity with the purchase of a two hectare green house area. According to Arben, nobody would dare undertake such an activity in 1994. What seemed utterly strange to Arben’s friends was the decision to plant herbs, considering that the number of people buying herbs such as oregano, selino, or even parsley, would be very scarce. Arben is quoted to say that his knowledge on agronomy and his work at the company of trade and export enabled him to create links and relations with the external markets and to export small quantities of herbs abroad. He also says that despite his links with the market world as well as his knowledge on this sphere, he was still wandering whether this would be a suitable option for business. According to the agronomist, soon after the collapse of communism, decisions to start your own business seemed sheer madness, yet he started.

photo herbsSoon after the beginning of his business on herb cultivation, his work was yielding results but it was all so exhausting, furthermore, Arben was lacking what his delicate business badly needed such as the export guarantees, product conservation in optimal conditions and many other things. But soon a part of these difficulties were come across due to grants given by the World Bank. Within the framework of the Agricultural Service Project, since four years ago, a grant was given to Islam. He bought a refrigerator, specifically for the herb conservation which enabled him to transform his seasonal business into an all year business.   

The Grant

For some years the business of herb production and herb export was a totally seasonal business. The unsuitable temperatures, the air and land humidity, as well as the lack of certificates for bio-products, would not create guarantee a market. In 2004, after the World Bank announces the call for project proposals, Arben Islami decided to compete with a project, presenting his ambitions for his own herb business. The project experts decided to support his ideas by providing him a grant of 15 000 dollars. Arben Islami is quoted to say that he trained the farmers of Elite AE, working jointly with his company but the greatest support provided by the grant was  the purchasing and buying of a refrigerator room for conservation of the herbs in optimal conditions.

From a seasonal activity of only 6 months a year, the greenhouses located at the vicinity of Vora village, are now transformed into a green house of an all year activity, because the refrigerator room enables the conservation of herbs in this room without any problem whatsoever. Soon after collection, the herbs are conserved at the functional refrigerator room with the suitable temperature and humidity for the 22 kinds of herbs cultivated. In this room as well, the herbs are packaged in small boxes and sent to Rinas Airport. During the training, the farmers working jointly with Arben, received lessons on marketing and importance of the bio products.

The herbs

Herbs photoThe production of the 22 kinds of herbs, in green houses of an area of 3 hectares, ranks the company Elite AE, among the biggest producers of herbs in the country. According to Arben Islami, everything produced from the green houses is bio. This is also verified by the contracts, analyses, in the most well-known laboratories of the world. Every product exported is subject to the controls and analyses made for bio products. These frequent analyses have confirmed that our products are bio- says Arben. Regarding the quantities, they depend on the market demand but export is uninterrupted. Very son Arben will sign a contract with the Malev airline company and this will bring him great profits in business. At least 10 workers are working in the green houses but during the peak months, this n umber is doubled because it needs different processes for the herb cultivation.

The competition

The farmers have participated in competition organized for the farms. The company Elite AE, took part in such a competition for the herb cultivation. The Program of the Competition Grants is one of the components of the Agricultural Service Projects. This project started in 2002, whereupon 11rounds are finalized until March 2008.Since the very launching of the program, 600 programs were presented out of which 140 won. The monitoring undertaken in the field has shown that the Competition Grant Project is one of the most successful projects implemented whatsoever in Albania. Almost all of the 140, who won, have achieved good results.

Even though this is only a 15 000 dollar sum, this grant has already its footprints in the farms where it was used. The World Bank country office manager in Tirana during a tour in some of the financed projects has said that the competition grants are a good example to be followed by the government and by other donors. "We are satisfied because this pilot project proved to be more than successful. The innovative ideas of the farmers that we have financed have been also replicated by the other Albanian farmers. The governments as well as the donors are providing funds based on such a procedure," says Camille Nuamah.


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