The country is mainly mountainous and hilly, with river valleys and small coastal plains. The climate is mild temperate (Mediterranean-type) with cool, cloudy wet winters and hot, clear, dry summers. Crop yields are affected by the variable weather, but mostly by rainfall, which averages 1 430 mm annually, but concentrated in autumn-winter and almost completely lacking in spring-summer.
There are some 0.7 million ha of arable land and permanent crops; 0.4 million ha of permanent pasture; and 1.0 million ha of forest. In recent years, wheat, maize, oats, potatoes, fruits and vegetables have shown increased production. Prior to 1992, 50% of arable land was nominally under irrigation, providing the potential for two vegetable crops per year. Since then, for a variety of reasons, the irrigated land area has contracted by some 30-40%. The increase in livestock production since 1992 has led to increased forage area, whereas the production of oilseeds, sugar beet and tobacco has declined. The main crops grown in the 1998-1999 crop season were wheat, forage crops, maize, vegetables, beans, etc.
Food import dependency: In November 1999, Albania was one of 34 countries with shortfalls in food supplies, requiring exceptional and/or emergency assistance.
Agricultural exports: Medicinal plants, spices, tobacco, vegetables and white beans.
The agricultural sector is the largest contributor to GDP, but the country continues to experience negative agricultural trade balances. Albania has applied to join the EU and its relation with the EU has oscillated, reflecting the variable political and economic situation. Currently, Albania is discussing a future association agreement. Albania is a member of EPPO.
Land reform started in 1991, and land distribution (not based on former property but on rural families) was nearly completed in 1999. There were delays in the process of land registration and in some parts there remains some uncertainty over land rights.
Large quantities of fruit, vegetables and potatoes now are imported, mainly from neighbouring countries, because of a lack of interest in farming. The absence of profit taxes on farmers on the one hand and of protective measures for home production on the other, have had a considerable influence on agriculture production, with increasing areas under vegetables, especially in glasshouses, noted in recent years, reducing imports and beginning to export modest quantities of vegetables.
The economy in general suffered a crisis due to the recent large influx of refugees from Kosovo.
Privatization has led to fragmentation of land holdings, and there are about 470 000 private farms, averaging about 1.1 ha each. From this area, the owner produces first for family needs (forage crops and wheat), and the remaining area planted to crops typical of the area. Due to delays in land reform, aggravated by the problems of farming in mountainous relief, large areas of plantations - mainly fruit trees, olive groves and citrus orchards - were abandoned, and owners migrated, many abroad. Nearly 30% of the arable land is not used. Some cooperation between farmers has begun, but not on large scale.
Rehabilitation projects are underway to bring some 150 000 ha back to full-time irrigation, as one of the first effects of land fragmentation was deterioration of the irrigation system. Other projects are in the pipeline.
Farmers do not have access to formal credit. Although tobacco is still an important cash crop, selected vegetable and fruit crops are favoured as the best cash earners, where irrigation services are reliable. Maintenance and extension of irrigation systems is financed by the farmers. There is no wholesale network, which limits marketing opportunities. Nearly all agro-processing industries have been privatized, but they do not work at full capacity.
Availability of agricultural inputs
Comparatively high priced inputs are only available for cash, so the limited purchasing power of farmers restricts their use. Most farmers usually use their own carryover seed. In the main arable areas of the country, there is a tendency to use high seed rates. In most areas, the reduction in the tax on fertilizer has encouraged its use.
Overall food supplies and donor support
In November 1999, Albania was among the 34 countries with a shortfall in food supplies in the current marketing year, requiring exceptional and/or emergency assistance.
A number of projects in the agriculture sector have been realized thanks to bilateral and international cooperation, including with Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, USAID, FAO, World Bank and IFAD.
Role of women
In conditions of little mechanization, the burden of agriculture falls on women. According to ISTAT data, more that 60% of the workers in agriculture are women. Contributory factors are the high economic migration rate among males, and the low mechanization level.
In 1992, Albania applied for admission to four OECD schemes for varietal seed certification (Herbage and Oil Seed, Cereals, Maize and Sorghum, and Vegetables). The new Albanian legislation derives from the main law On Seeds and Seedlings, approved by the Albanian Parliament (n. 7659, 12.01.1993), followed by the decisions of the Council of Ministers On the creation of the State Agency for Seeds and Seedlings (n. 447, 03.09.1993) and On the approval of the Rules on production, multiplication, elaboration, evaluation, marketing and control of seeds and seedlings and on the conservation and manipulation of plant genetic material (n. 552, 14.11.1994). French and German legislation was taken as patterns. Under the State Agency for Seeds and Seedlings there are 18 Seed and Seedling Regional Inspectors and 36 regional Inspectors for Plant Protection. The use of certified seed is still very low (about 10%) due to the use of self-produced seed for some major crops, such as wheat, fodder cereals, beans, etc. Seed production, processing and marketing activities require a licence from the regional inspector. However, application of the law leaves much to be desired.
The current law foresaw accession to the UPOV Convention of 1978, but plant breeders rights (PBR) are not yet operational, and PBR are not included in the draft law on intellectual property.
Most plant breeding activity is carried out in breeding centres of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, and covers the main field crops, vegetables, grape, and tree crops (citrus and olive). The University of Agriculture also carries out breeding of wheat, F1 maize, olive and grape. As a result of breeding work in the last decades, 15 of the 22 wheat cultivars in the official catalogue (1999) are locally bred, 20 of the 35 F1 maize hybrids, 7 of the 13 beans, 14 of the 21 tomato cultivars, etc.
Research in agriculture in Albania has not yet recovered after the economic and political collapse. Politically inspired changes of directors and staff have been followed by lowering of responsibilities. The breeding institutes have not been privatized and are financed partly by the state (50%); they have lost nearly half their staff, breeding activity has been reduced, and sometimes they lost also part of their land and buildings (storehouses included). The institutes are also responsible for coordinating basic seed multiplication in the country.
A new National Centre for the Direction of Research Institutes was projected some years ago, on the basis of the then existing research institutes. During the upheavals in 1997, some modern laboratories and the main library of the Agricultural University were destroyed.
Variety evaluation, registration and release
The State Agency for Seeds and Seedlings of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food is responsible for variety release and registration for all crops, including tree, forest and ornamental plants. Official tests continue for 2-3 years in the state field trials in different regions of the country. After analysing results, the Commission for Variety Release proposes the registration of the cultivars to the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. Every year, the agency publishes the Official Catalogue of Plant Species and Crops. Amendments to the present law are in preparation in order to allow EU cultivars in the EU catalogues to be commercialized in Albania without having to go through the testing procedure.
Most certified seed production is done or coordinated by breeding centres. The new private companies or private breeders also multiply seed on private farms on a contract-growing basis. Generation nomenclature in use is that of eastern countries, namely: Super-elite (= Pre-basic); Elite (= Basic); and then 1st and 2nd generations.
Seed testing, certification and control
All seed produced is tested and certified according to ISTA methods. A new Laboratory for Health Certification of Seedlings, constructed with Italian assistance, certifies perennial crop material, due to the high incidence of virus diseases in tree crops and vineyards.
The authority responsible for the control of seed certification and application of law is the General Inspectorate, with branches in the regions, and staffed by seed inspectors and plant protection inspectors. For import of seedlings, authorizations are needed from both the seed inspector and by the plant protection inspector. In some extreme cases, seed misuse has been verified: common wheat has been imported and sold as seed.
Seed processing, storage, marketing and distribution
The same institutions dealing directly with or coordinating seed production also carry out seed processing, storage, marketing and distribution. There is limited storage capacity for seeds and especially for maize seed (parental lines, country ecotypes, etc.).
In Albania, every importation of seed or seedlings requires permission from the State Agency for Seeds and Seedlings. The main seed imports are wheat (from Italy and Greece); F1 maize (Greece, Italy, France); potato and F1 tomato (Netherlands); alfalfa and sweet pepper (Bulgaria); grapevine (Italy, Macedonia (FYR)); and fruit trees (Italy, Greece, Macedonia (FYR)).
Seed research is very limited in the laboratory of the State Agency for Seeds and Seedlings, and mostly on storage conditions in general, and particularly genebank conditions.
The same breeding institutes and private companies that organize and coordinate seed multiplication also organize special courses for different crops.
Extension services helping the farmers are state-organized in regions by regional specialists. Special workshops on new cultivars are organized, together with demonstration field visits. Television is also used to inform users regarding new varieties and the appropriate technology. Other regular courses for inspectors and samplers are organized each year.
Application of plant biotechnology
In vitro propagation of potato and some tree plants is little used because of limited laboratory facilities.
Plant genetic resources
The Department of Agronomy, Agricultural University, Tirana, had a germplasm collection covering 89 species, with 3 994 accessions.
The Agriculture Research Institute, Lushnje, had 16 species, with 8 992 accessions. The Research Institute of Fruit Trees and Vineyard, Tirana, had 44 species and 754 accessions. The Forage Research Institute, Fushe-Kruja, had 22 species and 504 accessions. The Institute of Vegetable Crops (Tirana) had interesting local ecotypes (sweet pepper - 50; eggplant - 5; melons - 25 lines and 16 ecotypes; tomato - 400 lines and 40 ecotypes; cucumber - 65 lines and 5 ecotypes; cabbages - 2; etc.).
Currently this material is being collected in the National Genebank of the State Agency for Seeds and Seedlings. Albania is interesting as a source of genetic resources for several crops. The Franciscan monks bred grapes (named Kallmet) and dry beans, table olive cultivars, fig-trees, chestnut trees, nut trees, plum trees, onions, cabbages, tomatoes, sweet peppers, cotton (bred for extreme northern conditions), melons, leek, alfalfa, clover, etc., and these represent part of Albanias patrimony, which is now in danger. Genetic erosion began during the time of forced collectivization, and now there are difficulties in maintaining the in situ and field collections. Recently some 'lost' cereal cultivars have been obtained from Germany, collected during joint expeditions in the 1950s and 1960s. A new germplasm collection is urgently needed, especially for fruit trees.
A project for the conservation of the biodiversity, financed by the Ministry and foreign donors, is giving practical aid to research institutes