This is the story of combining the excellent inherent qualities of Albanian herbs, gently collected or cultivated organically by the hands of many farmers and harvesters in the remote mountainous areas of this country at the heart of Europe and then carefully processed and packed as excellent organic teas and spices by other equally sensible hands of Austrian villagers, adding value and wisdom to these products. This is the voyage of Sonnentor herbs, from the land of Sun to the gate of Sun. Preservation of such qualities during harvesting, selection and drying, has been made possible through intensive trainings by a network of experts to ensure high quality products and sustainable management of natural resources. Additional efforts by the farmers have been compensation by a fair price paid by the company and guaranteed by a long–term contract improving the livelihood of the small rural communities in mountainous areas.
Sonnentor l.t.d - AlbaniaLead applicant
Exportation of organic herbs and spices Sale of tea, spices and other organic products in Albania Quality control and assistance to producers/collectors
National Association for Communal Forest and Pasture Users - AlbaniaInitiative partner
Training on the management of forest, pasture and medicinal and aromatic plants Experimental cultivation of some aromatic plants Forestation projects
Agricultural University of Tirana, Faculty of Agriculture and Environment - AlbaniaInitiative partner
Faculty of Agriculture and Environment aims at becoming a modern contemporary center for undergraduate and graduate studies, scientific research and training and preparing specialist in the field of agriculture and food. It aims at becoming a referring point for the rural and agriculture development by directly contributing to the European integration of the country. The mission of the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment is to realize professional training of specialist in the field of agriculture and environment, promote respective departments and academic staff in facing time challenges such as: forecasting of food resources, sustainable development of agriculture, protection and regeneration of resources, traditional use of productive resources, provision of ecologically clean products, food safety etc., through active participation of students and academic staff in more advanced education, research and training programmes.
Albania is blessed with a rich flora and fauna, often in the past misused and abused. It is clear that the potential in the country to collect, process and sell natural organic herbs of high medicinal and aromatic properties was high. Sonnentor Albania did exactly this by establishing a dedicated network of farmers, both women and men, who either collect or cultivate these herbs supported by another network of traders that purchase the product and market it both locally and abroad. The mother firm in Austria continue to play a leading role in the whole process, especially in finer processing of the herbs and mostly in marketing. It is a success story that has benefited all the parties involved, but the highest impact has been on many families located in remote areas in Albania living in very unfavourable geographical and socio-economic conditions.
Innovations included improvements in the harvesting practices and especially in the drying and processing technology to assure high quality.
Albania is the one of the less developed countries in Europe with a high unemployment rate. Despite the migration of the last two decades, there is still a considerable share of population living in remote mountainous areas. Options for crop production here are limited due to rugged terrains and harsh climatic conditions therefore collecting wild medicinal and aromatic herbs or cultivating them constitutes a considerable source of income for these people. The current organisation of the herb market is overall characterized by lack of contracts and legal deals between the producers and the traders. On the contrary, Sonnentor is offering a fair price which is higher up to 50 – 100% than the market price. Besides, involvement of the Association for Communal Forests and Pasture Users and the Agricultural University of Tirana in implementing best practices guarantees farmers’ success in producing high quality raw material and get the price premium. Cultivation of organic herbs for Sonnentor is considered as an alternative source of income for many families in these remote areas and thus contributes to improved food security and poverty reduction.
This initiative has achieved the following tangible impacts:
- improvement of welfare of many poor families living in remote mountainous areas
- implementation of best practices in the cultivation and collection of herbs through a network of experts from non-governmental organisations and academia
- supplying high quality raw material to produce the best quality of organic teas and spices
- poor families in remote mountainous areas of Albania who collect herbs in the wild
- farmers who cultivate herbs sold to Sonnentor through a contract that guarantee fair selling prices
- other farmers who are looking at herb cultivation as a better alternative to many crops
- consumers who buy the high quality products
- Sonnetor too is the beneficiary of this practice by expanding its markets
- Environmental quality of the areas where herbs are cultivated has improved due to reduced erosion and improved soil fertility level
The Sonnentor Albania is a fast growing company in Albania that brings together about 100 harvester families, 20 farmers, several entrepreneurs, 10 experts and a manager.
Endrit Kullaj, partner and manager of Sonnentor l.t.d. is also a professor at the Agricultural University of Tirana (AUT). He holds a BSc in Crop Production, BSc in Agrarian Economics, MSc in Horticulture and a Doctor of Science in Horticulture from AUT. He also holds a PhD by the University of Bologna on international cooperation and sustainable development policies. He has been working as a consultant in many sustainable development projects by GIZ, UNDP, Austrian Development Agency, World Bank, SNV, USAID, etc. His research aims sustainability in areas of biological control, stress physiology, genetic resources and policies.
Endrit has been organising the entire network of the initiative.
Ferdin Liçaj, is forestry engineer and has a long experience in training families on collecting and harvesting practices of wild herbs. He has been working for many agencies like World Bank, GIZ, etc. Ferdin also deals with quality control.
Ismail Xhaja, trader of herbs, with more than 30 years of experience in this sector is a key trader within Sonnentor company.
The conventional system of medicinal and aromatic trade is responsible for improper collection of herbs, especially before the maturation or full development, intensive harvesting which is very critical when roots are harvested, improper techniques which damage the reproduction basis, improper storage methods, failure to comply with the quotas and list of species forbidden to collect, illegal cuts in the forests, over-harvesting in the forests, etc. These practices are having an impact on the sustainability and quality of the products, damaging the good name of Albania in the international market. Herb collectors should be aware of the influence of the reduction of the herb sources on the security of their life.
Harvesters and collectors do not possess the adequate technical knowledge and the necessary capitals to improve the business activity. This causes excess environmental pollution, improper storage and processing facilities, grading, cleaning and drying are not carried out according to technical conditions, impurities during transport and storage, failure to comply with the technical demand and absence of quality control laboratories.
In summary, some of the most common faced difficulties are:
- changing the attitude of poor and inadequately educated collectors and harvesters
- problems in quality harvesting and drying;
- identifying honest entrepreneurs and farmers willing to adopt organic farming technology for herb cultivation
- lack of advanced facilities and technology since much of the drying operations are hand made
The most important environmental component of this best practice is related to improved biodiversity of the areas where these wild herbs are grown. Positive effects relate to erosion control and soil quality. Moreover, the organic by-products deriving from the processing of herbs are composted and returned into the soil in the form of compost.
Sonnentor Albania has been quickly expanding its activities in many districts in the country. In fact, thanks to its good reputation and fair contracting prices, there are farmers themselves requesting collaboration.
Sonnentor disseminates its experience mostly through personal contacts with its stakeholders. Additionally simple “on-the-ground” practical workshops and seminars are organized frequently to train all those interested to engage in collecting and harvesting wild herbs. The company is developing lastly a video documenting the whole process from planting to harvesting of many herbs that would be available on its web page and will serve as a best way to disseminate knowledge.