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The potentials of the blueberry in the area of Kukes district in the context of quality signs and development of the respective value chain

Place: albania, Europe
Sustainable management of natural resources Sustainable management of natural resources
Total Budget: € 0,00 | Period: From April 2011 To July 2013

Summary

The blueberry initiative in the northern part of Albania represent an overview and in depth analysis of the value chain linkages, resulting in the categorization of a number of issues as well as findings, but also giving general recommendations for the blueberry development initiative. This value chain analysis covers some specific product areas reviewed using the available studies and materials strengthened by the field research data. The value chain analysis aimed at analyzing the performance of such product areas starting from the beginning of the process from the input considerations, to production; post harvesting, processing up to the product marketing till to the end consumer.

Partnership

Promali SNV Albania, The Netherlands Development Organization - Albania

Lead applicant

Awareness raising and network building a – to expand, strengthen and formalise the network of people and organisations who exist, are or wish to be involved in rural development initiatives in the Promali project commodities: Fruit Trees-FT, Small Ruminants-SR and Herbs and Spices – H&S and in the Promali operation area. To establish ANRON with fully consensus of existing local rural organisations, local authorities (in the Promali operation area) and register as per the requirements of the national legislation framework and EU practice based on LEADER methodology. To provide information – or ensure the provision of, clear effective and systematic information about the government's plans and programmes, tenders, legislation etc, and about other sources of advice, grant-aid etc in the field of rural development organizations. To train ANRON – energise those who have the formal role and the resources, for those who are in key positions within the network, particularly the leaders and animators of rural development programmes, in order to insert ideas where they will have the greatest multiplier effect of this network, through advice, development plans, information, workshops, seminars, field trips etc.; To provide ANRON with a sustainable development/business plan.

Agriculture Regional Directorate of Kukes - Albania

Initiative partner

Training of the farmers on agriculture and livestock production. In-situ demonstration of greenhouses services. In-situ preservation of the autochthonous races.

Agriculture Technology Transfer Center, Fushe Kruje - Albania

Initiative partner

Applied research activities/technology development in the sector of agriculture, livestock, land&water, integrated farm management. Technology transfer activities as well as know-how in agriculture and livestock production. Scientific and technical information activities. Specialization and training activities. Charged activities with laws and regulations. Studies and proposals on specific activities.

The northern part of Albania in comparison to the other national regions is less development, especially in the agricultural sector (related this with the agricultural land they posses). Taking in consideration that more than 50% of the region’s population leaves in the rural areas the agriculture opportunities especially in terms of wild fruit development are significant. The market oriented approach will enhance the performance of agribusiness as well as will increase the socio-economic situation of these regions. Some specific issues and challenges in the blueberry value chain analysis have been identified to be considered for the future growth of this sector.

At present, in the blueberry value chain the supply is inconsistent, leaving supply of local fresh blueberries, a market which is largely unstable and unfilled. Moreover, wild berry collection practices pose a potential risk of environmental damage, which the local authorities need to recognize. In Albania and especially for the zones which are taken into consideration it is allowed the collection of blueberry including here also the collection of medicinal crops, in public forests for their private purpose. It is legal for a collector, processor, or exporter to sell these to a consumer. Several local companies collect, process, and export berries. The government is yet unable to control this sector. Since the blueberry grows well in acidic land which in the main part of these areas is left fallow, the blueberries grown commercially can expand.

View from Gryk-Caj blueberry massive View from Gryk-Caj blueberry massive
View from Shishtavec blueberry massive View from Shishtavec blueberry massive

In the Albanian territory (Kukes region) blueberry plant grows at high altitudes ranging from 1.000 m – 1.400 m and in steep terrain. Blueberry (Thrashegra-Vaccinium L) is a shrub that ranges from 0 - 50 cm in height. From observations made in the field, it is found that the blueberry is a bush that grows as the sub forest element of the oak and subalpine and alpine meadows. Under the shadows of oak trees blueberries are developing little or none, while in subalpine and alpine meadows are develop pretty good giving a considerable amount of production. From the experts’ group meetings with the residents of the above areas it appears that blueberries as wild fruits of the forest and the pasture are required for its taste, its smell and its bio features. It is considered as an organic product as it is found and developed spontaneously in the mountainous area of our country. There are not used pesticides and fertilizers during their growing stages which makes them bio products. Blueberry fruit is consumed as a fresh fruit only during ripeness time, and as dry one during the remaining months of the year.

Blueberry (Thrashegra-Vaccinium L) shrub Blueberry (Thrashegra-Vaccinium L) shrub
Blueberry fruits during the ripeness time Blueberry fruits during the ripeness time

The fresh blueberry:
 is the main direction in these districts
 is collected and marketed such from the collectors directly in ambulatory points raised for this purpose
 none of the amount of fresh blueberries collected is not damaged, since that amount that cannot be exported fresh is completely used for drying or for personal use by farmers
 the entire amount of blueberry collected fresh, goes for export
The blueberry tea and jam:
 the blueberry tea is with exceptional value
 in our country too little is done in this direction; however it should be noted that it has begun a commitment to the processors attention for achieving in situ production of blueberry tea as well as its jam
 thus has started also the packaging of tea in small packages, to be used directly in individual tea as well as that of jam
The dry blueberry:
 the drying process is very empirical and it is done only in the sun turning occasionally the blueberry fruits with the aim to reduce the moisture of the fruit
 processing of dry blueberry through various industrial processes as the production of the blueberry flour still is not practiced in our country
 even the large industries of medicinal plants or different traders remain in their right exporting; they reach until in the standardization and the packaging of dry blueberry but did not still continuing further with other processes

Fresh blueberry Fresh blueberry
The dry blueberry The dry blueberry

The main beneficiaries are the citizens of Kukes district. Very often collectors have limited knowledge on the good collection practices. There is a need on training the collectors on strengthening their practical skills, knowledge and attitude in accordance to the good collection and agricultural practices. Collection practices must ensure a long term survival of wild population and their associated habitats. Management plans for collection should provide a framework for setting sustainable harvest levels and describe appropriate collection practices that are suitable for the plant species and the plant part which are used (such as leaves, roots, fruits….). There is a lack of processing facilities in these areas. In order to protect the competitive advantage that nature and climate have created and to prevent any loss of value through man-made mistake or contamination the processor must implement and be compatible with the international standards referring to the food safety. From a marketing point of view the recognized certification from GAP, HACCP as well as organic agriculture is a fundamental requirement. There is a lack of marketing strategy as well as insufficient promotion and business linkages.

Trading of fresh blueberry Trading of fresh blueberry

Since there is virtually no commercial blueberry production, employment is seasonal, with an average of 500 rural families involved in Kukes district. As currently there are roughly three small scale processors (AgroPuka and Don Giovanni Center both situated in Puka district; and Xherdo Company which represent the main operator for Kukes district) operating on the market.

Areas where blueberry is situated, belongs to the alpine pasture area, which was stretched over forest generations and characterized by the lack of trees. The vegetation here is represented by small shrubs. Climatic conditions of this area are very specific and are unfavorable for the growth of tree vegetation, and that part of the vegetation, especially the bushes of V. Myrtillus are presented under a stress of weather conditions, which have conditioned also the shape of their crown, which is almost one with the land. The areal where the population in question was located, was represented by a shallow substrate with high slope, damaged by erosion and plant cover here appear incomplete. The diversity property is limited in herbal accompaniment of this areal as there is a significant predominance of V myrtillus, J communis Subsp.Nana and Nardus stricta L. in particular. This dominance in about 70 % of habitat has resulted in the species impoverishment. Nardus stricta L. occupies about 65 % of the vegetation cover and therefore in these associations are participating relatively less plant species compared with other association in this area. This area of subalpine pastures, for the special climatic conditions it has is poor in plant flora. Many of these species appear as dominant or subdominant of the pastures.
In Kukes region the vegetation was damaged, especially from indiscriminate use of the metal combs used during the production harvesting time. Major injuries were made even during the collection of leaves for medicinal plant market. At the time of full maturation many cultures of blueberries are damaged by wild animals especially from the birds of mountain area. Negative impact on the variation of production, brings also the collection with the comb, which, along with the fruit are cut off the leaves, and thus the plant enters weaker winter its photosynthetic and assimilative activity decreases too much. The main area, five years ago has been burned and the pine vegetation ecosystem is almost eliminated. Blueberry vegetation is regenerating but has not reached the optimal development. The percentage of fruit connectivity is relatively low where each plant has about a fruit.
This shows that after burning the massive has just started the regeneration. The vegetation at the moment lies at the oak and pine area, but the massive currently appears as an area deprived from the vegetation of the first generation, as rarely the first floor vegetation has been not damaged. Blueberry development into groups has also been adapted to the state of soil fertility which does not appear uniform.

 

Use of the metal combs during the production harvesting time Use of the metal combs during the production harvesting time

Adapted to naturally acid, low fertility soils and challenging winters, blueberries are a low input crop requiring minimal management. The blueberries are a symbol of agricultural heritage — a heritage that respects and values the environment — growers consider the future well-being of the land in their management practices, allowing neighbors and visitors to continue to enjoy some of the most scenic vistas and precious wildlife habitats.

Because wild blueberries are indigenous to this mountain area, they are naturally resistant to many native pests. Still, there are times when environmental stressors such as disease, drought, insect pest damage and winter injury can ruin much of the fruit and it is a grower’s challenge to minimize such crop damage. Growers throughout the crop cycle monitor disease and insect levels to help minimize fruit destruction without harming the environment. When critical levels are reached, growers consider a full range of control methods, from cultural techniques to the selective application of pesticides. Consumers are increasingly concerned about environmental issues such as pesticide use. Fortunately, by using best management practices, the need for pesticides may be reduced.

The goal in blueberry production is high yield of quality fruit while preserving the environment for future production. From this perspective, it is very important to determine if the different agro-activities are sustainable. Actually, the negative side effects of conventional approaches have generated a need for researching the means for achieving the goal of sustainability. The environmental dimension is related to the ability to maintain the natural resources (soil, water, air, and biodiversity), to reduce the possible damage and at the same time to promote the benefits of agricultural activity on the environment.

For sustainable agriculture to exist in the mountains, a production system must ensure a stable flow of products and services without degrading or depleting the long-run potential of the natural resource base of mountain agriculture. In these last decades, however, the evolution of farming techniques progressively made agriculture more dependent from external factors (fertilizers, pesticides, mechanical tools, etc.) and therefore more detrimental for the environment, leading to a loss of biodiversity. This agriculture, indeed, increased yields and the quality of the crops, but also the pollution of the earth and aquifers, and reduction of ecosystem biodiversity.

A number of fruits such as blueberries tend to be low in pesticide residues and have little negative impact on the environment. Coincidentally, they also tend to be higher in valuable nutrients than other varieties. We won't find a healthier berry than a blueberry. While most commercial berries are extremely high in insecticide residues, blueberries are among the lowest of any fruit.

Management practices Management practices

The northern part of Albania is considered as the most appropriate geographical area to implement a pilot project in order to better deliver the outputs and carry on the activities programmed. The knowledge transfer can be facilitated by the exchange between neighboring farmers ensuring the sustainability. Puka area has already a well-established cooperation of farmers with a long experience in collecting and processing chain. This ensures sustainability and much broader impact of the initiative, improving the life of a large number of farmers. From another point of view 50 – 60 % of the total amount of the fresh blueberry is collected in Tropoja district which represents another issue to be sustained. There is evidence of willingness by local actors to collaborate and implement activities related to each of the tasks due to a better chain organization and easier logistics. Activities proposed can result in achieving the intended outputs and outcomes, especially considering the wide varieties of tasks to be fulfilled. Direct links between farmers and processors ensures the sustainability of the project. The project seems to be much feasible both in terms of effectiveness and efficiency (use of resources). Given the focus of such initiative we strongly believe that Puka and Tropoja areas are suitable for the further project implementation.

Dissemination includes face to face discussions with blueberry collectors, harvesters, processors, traders and producers as well as organisation of numerous training seminars and study tours.