Albania is in Southeast Europe and more precisely on the western side of the Balkan Peninsula (see Figure 1); it is bordered by Greece to the south and southeast, by Macedonia and Kosovo to the east, and by Montenegro to the north. Its western border is the Adriatic and Ionian Sea. The Illyrians, the ancestors of the Albanian people, together with the Greeks are the most ancient people in the Balkans. The Albanian language is unique and one of ten branches of the Indo-European family of languages. Agriculture began in Albania in very ancient times, in the Neolithic Age.
Albania is a small (see Figure 2), very mountainous country with a population of about 3.1 million people (according to the World Factbook the July 2006 population was 3,581,655 with a growth rate of 0.52%); the capital Tirana has about 700,000 inhabitants. It has a total area of 28,750 km2, of which 24 percent is agricultural land, 36 percent forest and 15 percent pasture and meadow. The remaining 25 percent is classified as other, which includes urban areas, about 135,000 hectares of lakes and waterways and unused rocky and mountain land. The average agricultural land per capita at 0.2 hectares is the smallest in Europe, even though agricultural land more than doubled from 1950 to 1990 due to drainage of marshland, terracing and cultivation of forest and pastures, and establishment of new irrigation schemes. Agriculture still provides the income base for most of the population and serves as an employment safety net. The rural population is estimated at about 54 percent of the total population while more than 60 percent of the labour force works in agriculture and related fields.
Land area, arable and pastoral areas
Cows. Before World War II, cows were primarily used
as draught animals. In comparison with 1938, the number of cows increased
2.2 times and in 2002 they increased 3.9 times. Milk and meat production,
however, increased more, 5.5 and 8.5 times respectively. This increases
reflects the significant efforts that have been made both by state and
private organizations to improve the breeds and their feeding.
Major topographic features
Major soil types
a. Grey - brown soils occur at altitudes up to 600 m. They include the zone of coastal lowland and hills, which make up about 15 percent of the country. Of these soils, 70 percent are under crops. In the lowland zone there are 84,000 hectares of alluvial soil and 15,000 hectares of saline soils.Little fertilizer has been used since 1991, resulting in a fall in organic content, nitrogen, and potassium compared to 20 years ago. Wasteful cultivation practices, and poor soil conservation practices have also caused soil degradation. Approximately 200,000 hectares have been affected in this way, most of it in the potentially highly productive coastal zones. A considerable amount of pasture was converted to crops and the pasture area has decreased from 700,000 hectares in the nineteen-sixties to about 400,000 hectares today, resulting in reduced fodder supply and an increase in marginal arable land.
Soil erosion has also increased, particularly on the less fertile soils and in the hilly and mountainous areas and appears: (a) as surface erosion, (b) as coastal erosion, (c) as riverbank erosion, (d) in the transportation of silt and (e) in the impoverishment of soil fertility. The main factors causing erosion are pedoclimatic (altitude, mountainous terrain, rainfall and bare slopes) and human (deforestation, irrigation with flow, a considerable decrease of investments to maintain agricultural land, and fires in pastures and forests). A study by the Albanian Research Institute of Soil estimates than 20 per cent of Albanian soil is likely to be eroded at a rate of more than 5 ton/ha/year; 70 per cent of territory is eroding at 30 ton/ha/year; only 10 per cent of the soil area is less affected by this phenomenon. This report shows that about 100,000 hectares of agricultural land are currently in the process of desertification caused by poor vegetation cover. (World Bank and FAO, 2002).
a. The southern part of the coastal plain is characterized by a relatively dry Mediterranean climate, hot summers with an average temperature of 26 °C. Winter is mild and wet with an average temperature of 9.8 °C. The average annual rainfall amounts to 800-1 300 mm, but only 12 percent of the total falls in the period June-September. In this area many crops are grown (cereals, industrial crops, vegetables, forages etc.), also citrus and olive trees.
Albania is divided into four natural regions; it is like a great amphitheatre
with numerous vertical extensions, where at intervals of 120-150 km the
altitude reaches up to 2 750 m.
a. The lowland zone alongside the Adriatic Sea where plains range from 50 to 200 m above sea level. Alluvial soils dominate here and also there are different spots with saline soils. About 80 percent of annual rainfall (about 900-1200 mm/year) is concentrated during the October – March period. These pedoclimatic conditions help for good cultivation of most crops; irrigation is necessary during summer.
In Albanian agriculture there are substantial regional differences which reflect variation in climate and terrain, access to agricultural service and inputs, development of markets, and different levels of infrastructure development. To explore these differences, the districts have been grouped into four broad regions mostly representing the different agro-ecological zones (see Table 2); this grouping does not correspond exactly with the agro-ecological zones since many districts contain more than one zone. As would be expected, there is less agricultural land and more pasture and forest in the more mountainous regions; holdings also tend to be smaller there, although the farmers have access to unallocated pasture and forest land for grazing. Cropping patterns also differ; the most notable trend is the large percentage of non-cropped agricultural land in the more mountainous regions. Much of this land which is often steep, stony, and infertile was cultivated during the years 1960-1990 of the previous regime. Some of it is now used for rough grazing. Tree crops are grown in all regions; they are particularly important in the intermediate zones where olives, grapes, and various fruits are widely grown.
Input use is lower in the mountain zones than in the plains, which together
with poorer pedoclimatic conditions is reflected in lower crop yields
Table 3 gives data for various livestock numbers, meat, milk and wool production as well as cattle, meat and milk imports for the period 1996-2005. The data were taken from FAOSTAT
Traditional systems (pastoral and agropastoral, mixed smallholder,
Pastures and meadows
(a) there is a large proportion of unpalatable plants or weeds, both herbaceous (e. g. Asphodelus microcarpus, Urginea maritima, etc.) and woody (e. g. Phlomis fruticosa, Rubus sp., etc);
As a result of their condition, productivity of pastures and meadows
is low. Under good soil conditions winter pastures yield no more than
1 500 kg DM/ha, and summer pastures no more than 1 000 kg DM/ha. Under
fair to poor soil conditions, which predominate, the yield of forage is
substantially less; the average herbage production is no more than 600
kg DM/ha or even much less (227 kg DM/ha) (USAID, 1996).
Forests Grazing Management. In Albania, high forests
are pure or mixed and consist of mainly beech, black pine, oak, maritime
pine, fir and other broadleaves and conifers. They are managed in the
classical way by thinning or clear cutting and natural regeneration. Coppice
forests are also pure or mixed and consist mainly of oaks and beech. They
are managed for firewood but also serve as fodder through lopping of oak
trees. Shrubs lands consist of several species both evergreen and deciduous
(e. g. Arbutus unedo, Erica spp., Quercus coccifera).
They are used for firewood and grazing.
Arable land grazing. Land ownership is about 0.2 hectares per capita on average, which means that there is no real incentive for cultivation, so a great part of the arable lands is under-utilized and grazing is the main activity. Even the cultivated area is grazed after the harvest. Straw is collected and stacked for use in winter. In addition, forage and hay crops are grown (about 40 percent of the total cropland: lucerne, maize, annual clovers and ryegrasses, etc.). It is a common practice to graze under trees after the fruit harvest.
Fodder Supply and Grazing. The developing livestock sector makes a considerable demand on feed and fodder supplies. Possibilities for expansion of natural pasture are limited, so increased feed must come from improved production of fodder such as lucerne, maize and other grasses, and improved utilization of industrial by-products such as olive cake, bran and soybean meal. Forage crops are now grown on 165,000 hectares, or 40 percent of the cropped arable land, with lucerne comprising about two-thirds of this area. Most is harvested by hand and there are problems with weeds and poor storage of hay. More emphasis should be placed on measures to improve forage quality, enhance management and feeding practices and increase availability of clean seed. Grazing resources including pasture, forest, and some agricultural land are fundamental for livestock raising. But many pastures and forests have degraded significantly over the last 5 to 10 years, particularly in land close to communities where over-grazing and over-cutting of wood have resulted in reduced productivity and soil erosion.
Legislation and government for livestock fodder and pastures
(a) State-owned pasture lands amounting to 38 percent of the whole area and are administered by the Directorate General of Forests and Pastures (DGFP) in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food (MAF);The Law on “Forestry and the Forest Police Service” (No. 7223 of October 13, 1992) defines the country’s forest estate (“forest fund”), which comprises State, communal and private forests. State forest management is the responsibility of the forest administration, though the law does not specify the methods. Management of private forests is not covered under this law. Communal forests are a newly introduced category that, while still State-owned land, can be jointly managed by communes and the DGFP. Various subsidiary texts to the forestry law have also been issued, including regulations for the exploitation of forests, decisions on the setting of stumpage and other forest fees, guidelines for auctions of standing wood, instructions for protection against forest fires, the principles for the selection and establishment of protected areas, and the use of forests for recreational purposes.
The DGFP is responsible for pasture and grazing management and for collecting grazing fees, but this centralized approach was rarely accepted by local users. Recent legislation allows the transfer of user rights and management of forest land and pasture to communities. About 250,000 hectares of pasture and 200,000 hectares of forest in 250 of Albania’s 315 communes have been identified as land that could be transferred. This does not include alpine pasture, which will remain protected land under the control of the DGFP. The IDA-Forestry Project (financed by Italy and Switzerland) includes a Communal Forest and Pasture Management component, which aims to:
(a) rehabilitate and increase the productivity of pastures near villages in order to meet firewood and fodder requirements; andPasture vegetation
The Botanical Department of Tirana University has grouped pastures on the basis of the predominant plant species (Shundi, 1987):
a. Pasture type with Andropogon spp. (distachyos, ischaemum and gryllus). These three species grow in winter pastures above 800-1 000 m above level sea, in poor and dry lands with pH 5.5 – 7.0. Associated species are Dactylis glomerata, Cynodon dactylon, Medicago minima, different Trifolium spp. (angustifolium, campestre, subterraneum ), Bellis perennis, Cichorium intybus. Grasses are 60 – 70 percent, legumes 10 – 20 percent, and plants of other botanical families 20 – 30 percent.
The first three types belong to the winter pastures and the last three types to the summer pastures.
Shrubs are spread over the most pasture surface, up to 800 – 1 000 metres above sea level. Dominant shrubs include: Arbutus unedo, Erica arborea, Myrtus communis, Quercus coccifera, Paliurus spina-christi, different Crataegus. Subshrubs that only grow 0.2 – 0.5 metres like different Artemisia and Astragalus angustifolius are spread in the summer pastures.
Grazing pressure, however, is not the same everywhere. It is highest on the winter pastures and in lowlands near villages and much lower in mountain areas, particularly summer pastures, where under-grazing seems to have become a problem locally due to the emigration of people to urban centres and abroad. As far as wooded lands are concerned, the pressure is highest in shrub lands, where goats mainly graze and least in high forests while in coppice forests it is intermediate.
Forage availability over the seasons. Grazing animals have a more or less constant feed demand over the calendar year with the exception of the period of pregnancy when demand is slightly increased. For dairy animals, an increased quality and quantity of feed is also required during lactation. On the contrary, the feed supply of pastures is not constant over the year due to climatic factors. On the lowlands (up to 800 m), with a typical Mediterranean climate, plant growth is confined to the favourable period in terms of moisture and temperature, namely in autumn after the first rains and in spring, while in winter, plant growth is reduced due to the low temperatures. On the winter pastures forage is available during autumn and spring. The same is true in arable lands used for grazing or hay. In the highlands (above 800 m altitude), the growing period moves towards the summer months due to the cold winters but the availability of forage throughout the summer depends very much on the occurrence of rain. A different case are the forests including shrublands, where the main forage supply is based on woody plants. Evergreen shrublands can provide browse to animals year-round but deciduous shrublands and forests only do so during summer.
Integrated management of wooded lands
High forests. In general, the primary objective in management
of high forests is timber production. Forage production can be only be
a secondary use. However, grazing is not compatible with all high forests.
Even-aged dense forests of shade tolerant species, for example, produce
no understorey vegetation under proper management during their whole life,
therefore they are not suitable for grazing. If animals are allowed to
get into such forests they will destroy them. Even under improper management
such forests produce very little understorey vegetation which is worth
grazing; they will lose more energy finding and collecting than they gain
from eating such vegetation. Typical cases of this category are the beech
and deciduous oak forests. Uneven-aged high forests (e.g. fir), are also
unsuitable for grazing because they consist of all the age classes including
seedlings, which are very vulnerable to livestock damage. High forests
with the above characteristics not compatible with livestock grazing are
the broadleaved and evergreen forests and woodlands dominated by Fagus
silvatica or Abies borisii-regis, or the creek and riverine
deciduous forest, the classes 3, 4, 8, 10, 13, 16 and 17 of the new land
cover/use map of the ANFI project. These forest types should be fully
protected from grazing. They amount to 350,762 ha or 23% of the total
forest lands. They belong to forests (271,469 ha) and woodlands (79,293
ha). [Note: these data are from the new survey (see ANFI, 2001) and data
may differ from those in Table 3. The same applies to data presented below].
Coppice forests. The primary objective in management of coppice forests is firewood production. Under certain conditions forage could be a secondary objective. Coppice forests can be grazed only when sprouts grow beyond the reach of animals, especially goats. The existing rule-of-thumb applied by the Forest Service, is when the young sprouts achieve a height of about 3 metres or a Diameter Breast Height (DBH) of 3-5 cm is a sensible one. In these forests, grazing should be used to reduce the number of sprouts per stump and unit area thus favouring some of them to grow tall and fast. Such management can speed up the process of converting coppice to high forests. A typical case of this category is the oak forest. The stocking rate again should be equal to grazing capacity. Under the ANFI project, forests that fall into this category belong to classes 1, 2, 5, 11 and 12. They amount to 627,271 ha or 62% of all forests.
Lopped trees. Lopping of forest trees, especially deciduous oaks, is a traditional practice in Albania, still widespread all over the country. Although the lopped branches provide both foliage to the animals and firewood to the people, the quality of the feed is not very high and the manpower involved is considerable. In addition, lopping prevents trees from providing acorns for regeneration in both high and coppice forests. In the long run, the foliage produced by lopping should be replaced by other kinds of feed of higher quality produced on arable land (e.g. lucerne) or by higher quality foliage of trees established artificially as fodder shrub plantations with Robinia pseudoacacia, Morus alba and Medicago arborea.
Shrublands. The primary objective in management of shrublands should be forage production with firewood production a secondary one. These areas are the primary grazing lands for goats and they receive a very high pressure in most districts of the country. A number of reports prepared by experts from various international organizations involved in forestry development of Albania have already stressed the need to allocate shrublands to livestock in a sylvopastoral management context. Shrublands are either dominated by evergreen species such as Arbutus unedo, Erica sp., Quercus coccifera, Phillyrea latifolia, etc. or by deciduous species such as Carpinus orientalis, Cornus mas, Fraxinus ornus, etc. or both. The co-existence of evergreen and deciduous shrub species is quite widespread in the coastal and central parts of Albania. Under the ANFI project, the forests falling into this category are classes 19, 20, 21, 22 and 23. They amount to 150,705 ha or 14% of the forest area. Under proper grazing management, animals including goats can not fully control the growth of shrubs. For this reason, livestock production in these areas should be combined with firewood production.
Grazing capacity of forests. Grazing capacity is the
maximum number of animals that can graze a pasture without impairing its
productivity. That implies that grazing management of pasture should be
sustainable, i.e. it should have the capacity to carry the same number
of animals in the future as currently or even more. In order to achieve
such an objective, part of the annual production should be left ungrazed
to sustain productivity. This could be 40-60% of the annual forage production
depending on pasture condition and the type of vegetation of the particular
grazing land. For calculation of the grazing capacity (see Table 7), only
the grazeable portion of forage production should be considered, namely
the average dry matter production per unit area at the end of the growing
season multiplied by the so called "proper use factor".
Other pasture information
Pasture area per capita. For smaller districts the pasture
area could vary to some extent, due to the limitations of the area calculations.
The pasture area per capita varies widely among the districts from 0.009
ha/capita to 0.83.
On the other hand, the pasture survey data indicate that the majority of pastures are in fair to poor condition. About half of them are inappropriately grazed (too lightly or too heavily), 24% of them are subjected to fire and more than 60% of them show signs of erosion - sheet as well as accelerated. These results are amply documented by the stocking rates for the 36 districts of the country which are on the average 6 times more than the grazing capacity estimated at no more than one sheep or goat per hectare and per year. This grazing load is not evenly distributed among the 36 districts, some of them being overexploited while others are grazed almost properly.
Finally, the pasture survey shows that very few pastures are now used for haymaking, that there is an imbalance between summer and winter pastures with the latter being less than the former and that most of the pastures are far from the settlements with poor accessibility and a lack of infrastructure, especially watering points. It should also be noted that although the pastures are dominated by herbaceous vegetation, they also have a substantial amount of woody species (25% on the average). This means that they can provide feed to both sheep and goats.
Development of pastures and meadows
For pastures and meadows to become capable of accommodating the feed
needs of livestock as much as possible, they need to be properly developed,
improved and managed. Such a development should be a priority issue for
the Forest Service if it really wants both to save the forests and help
the mountain economy.
a. Improve grazing management, and the availability and quality of feed and fodder, which affect animal production, growth rates, and fertility and reproductive performance. Measures should be taken to improve forage production and preservation technology, management and feeding practices, and availability of clean seed for alfalfa and other forage crops planted on arable land. This should be an extension activity supported by rural communities that would jointly carry out fodder related improvement activities. The Pasture Management Programme could also be expanded to include additional communes. Limit the unsustainable use of grazing by allowing the resource to be controlled locally.
Grazing capacity. The current grazing capacity of pastures and meadows is quite low. By most local (Albanian) accounts (e.g. IFMP, 1994) and ANFI, 2001 estimates, the dry matter production is no more than 600 kg/ha on the average that amounts to 2,883,378 SEUM after taking into account a “proper use factor” of 60%. For a 7- month period per year, the SEU (Sheep Equivalent Units) which can graze in these areas, are about 412,000 which is about 0.9 SEU/ha/year, namely less than one third of the official estimate of DGFP based on data collected in 1981. This discrepancy is probably attributable to the fact that the official estimates of DGFP do not take into account the “proper use factor” and also they are quite old. Several Albanian foresters contend that the productivity of pastures and meadows has been significantly reduced over the last 20 years. It is necessary, therefore, to conduct a survey of the current production of pastures and meadows so that DGFP has more reliable data to determine the grazing capacity of pastures and meadows.
a. Weed control. Pastures are full of weeds due to the mismanagement applied so far and still being applied. These weeds are both herbaceous and woody. Examples of herbaceous weeds are Asphodelus spp., and Urginea maritima in the winter pastures and Helleborus cyclophyllus in the summer pastures as well as several thistles in both of them (e.g. Cirsium, Carduus etc). Examples of woody weeds are Phlomis fruticosa, Paliurus spina-christi and Rubus spp. in the winter pastures and Juniperus nana and Astragalus spp. in the summer pastures. All these weeds need to be controlled in order to increase productivity. Control can be manual or with machines. Also, in some cases, fire can be used. Burning to control weeds is used by shepherds but this is not regulated and often causes more damage that good. With weed control, pasture production may be doubled.
All the above vegetation improvements, combined or applied alone, can result in at least a doubling of the current production and, consequently, the grazing capacity of pastures.
Management plans. The most inexpensive and effective method of improving pasture productivity is proper grazing management. Such management involves: a) employment of a stocking rate equal to grazing capacity, namely grazing the pastures with the proper number of animals, b) use of kinds of animals suitable to pastures ; c) grazing at the proper period (season) of the year; and d) grazing for as long as available forage exists (duration of grazing). The latter two conditions refer to the grazing system that should be applied to a particular pasture.
Development of agricultural areas
Opportunities for improvement of pastures (Papanastasis, 2003):
a. - Grazing should be considered as the most important non-timber use of forests and treated as a tool for their conservation and sustainable management. This philosophy should be incorporated in the forest law by revising it so that grazing by domestic and wild animals becomes an integral component of management.
The Directorate General of Forests and Pastures (DGFP) is responsible
for pasture management and their cadastral register.
The address of the Forest and Pasture Research Institute is: Rr. “Halit Bega” Nr 23, Tirane-ALBANIA with e-mail: email@example.com
The address of the Crop Research Institute with a Forage Crops Department
is: “Crop Research Institute, Fushe Kruje-ALBANIA”.
This profile was prepared by Prof. Andrea Shundi who was the main lecturer for grasslands and forage plants at the Agricultural University of Tirana from 1980-1992. He also participated, with papers on rangelands, in various International Congresses (Montpellier-France 1987, Palmerston North-New Zealand 1993, Salt Lake City-USA 1995, Townsville-Australia 1999) and Meetings of the FAO European Grassland Network (Montpellier-France 1986, Bari-Italy 1990, Chania-Greece 1993). He has been resident in USA since 1999.