Activities of harvesting, cultivation, processing and trade of medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs) are major agro–forestry businesses in Albania. Albania is one of the richest and highest quality sources of many botanicals, making it an already known source of supply – 15% of its 3250 species are of medicinal, aromatic, spice and tannin are of significant value. The MAPs industry in Albania has a tradition of more than 60 years. MAP contributes to 18% of agriculture exports. Besides being a major revenue source for the economy reaching ~20 Million EUR/year in 2013, this sector plays an important socio–economic role, contributing up to 35% of household income, because it is estimated that about 80.000 people, especially from disadvantaged mountainous areas, are involved as harvesters or farmers. Recognizing the role and potential of this sub–sector, the Inter–Sectorial Strategy for Agricultural and Rural Development considers MAP as a very important sector for rural diversification and among the priority sectors to be supported through various instruments.
Most of the MAPs business is made by wild products. However, increasing labour costs in collecting wild-grown MAP due to overexploitation of natural resources in some areas and depopulation in some other areas, increasing procurement cost, competition between wholesalers and difficulty to match the market potential only with wild products are increasing the interest of the operators for cultivating some MAPs, especially herbs. Other factors, especially the high profitability and support by government subsidy schemes have drastically increased cultivation in recent years offering a considerable source of income for thousands of households. The cultivation surface has increased from 1877 ha in 2001 to 5000 ha in 2013 out of which 4000 ha are planted with sage and the rest with other plants such as lavender, thyme, and other plants.
There is potential for market expansion for many wild-grown MAP but most importantly (for farmers) for many cultivated MAP. However, this requires upgrading of cultivation, harvesting and post-harvesting technology. Organic farming seems to be one of the promising sub-sectors with huge potential for both farmers and processors.
Based on the need for resources on organic herb growing and good agricultural practices in harvesting of medicinal plants this component aims at preparing such resources which are useful for students, farmers and operators. These teaching resources will be combined with case studies of two companies, Sonnentor ltd from Albania and Agroproduk ltd from Kosovo. Both companies are exporters specialized in organic MAP have succeeded to organize farming according to standards required for organic production. For example, Sonentor ltd. is specialized in cultivation, collection and exporting of organic MAPs to Austria from a network of small suppliers which at the moment has reached about 100 ha of cultivation located in Pogradec, Korça, Skrapar, Gramsh, Lushnja. Since the beginning Sonentor has implemented contract farming with stable prices to ensure high quality, traceability and long-term partnership. Sonentor is planning now to enter into processing of raw materials.