Republic of Albania

SUMMARY

Albania is a country of Eastern Europe with a relatively young and predominantly rural population. Agriculture accounts for an important share of the gross domestic product (GDP), but the level of mechanization is low and the size of farms is small. Agricultural exports are limited and production is mostly for subsistence. After the end of the communist regime in 1991, Albania experienced a difficult economic transition and suffered two economic shocks due to the financial collapse of the so-called “pyramid schemes” in 1997 and to the Kosovo crisis in 1999.

While the GDP has been growing substantially, poverty still affects a large proportion of the population, particularly in rural areas and among the newly urbanized, and causes problems of access to food and health services. Another consequence of poverty is the increase in child labour and a subsequent decrease in school enrolment in rural areas during the last decade. Health services remain underdeveloped and of poor quality. However, infant, child and maternal mortality rates have progressively decreased and immunization coverage is good.

Since the 1990s, the supply of many food groups has increased, particularly for dairy products and eggs, and fruit and vegetables. Consequently the diet has become more diversified, especially in urban areas. Presently, at national level, the dietary energy supply is largely sufficient to meet the population's energy requirements. Overall the prevalence of undernourishment is low. However, Albania is increasingly dependent on imports of cereals.

Infant and young child feeding practices are inadequate. Although a very large majority of infants are breastfed, initiation of breastfeeding after birth is late and exclusive breastfeeding is rarely practiced. These inadequate practices, together with poverty and lack of access to health services of quality are reflected in the poor nutritional status of preschool children, which appears to have worsened in the last few years. In 2000, about a third of children under five years were stunted and one out of ten was wasted. At the same time, the population is undergoing a nutrition transition and the prevalence of overweight and obesity is high among adults in the capital Tirana.         

Iodine deficiency disorders are common among children, particularly in mountainous areas which represent a large part of the country. Less than half of rural households consume adequately iodized salt. Although data on vitamin A deficiency are not available, it seems unlikely that this deficiency is widespread because of the high dietary supply of dairy products and eggs. Limited data on iron deficiency suggest that it is an important public health problem affecting a large proportion of children under 2 years of age. Supplementation with iron has been conducted in some areas but is not generalized.

Major improvements in health care and efforts in nutrition education are needed to reduce the high prevalence of undernutrition, while preventing the transition to obesity and chronic diseases. In particular promotion of better infant and young child feeding practices, promotion of diets rich in fruit and vegetables for all, and programmes to alleviate rural and urban poverty to ensure better access to nutritious foods, are the main actions that could improve the nutrition situation.

© FAO 2010