Applications for Ipard II funds opened in January 2022, when local and migrant farmers were invited to apply for agritourism support. The available funds reached almost 10 million euros, a good chance to lend a hand to the sector, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and the expectation of experts. But a verification of Faktoje and the findings of an audit of the High State Audit show the lack of a clear strategy for the development of this sector. As a result, indicators of how productive this sector has been are missing, which makes it impossible to measure the impact that these investments have brought to the development of the rural economy.
“Agritourism is an extraordinary opportunity for immigrants who want to invest their savings. From this investment, they will be able to provide higher income than the income they provide from work in emigration”, said Prime Minister Rama, in January 2022, as he presented the fourth call of IPARD II.
The Prime Minister has not hidden the fact that agritourism is a priority for him. As a result, rural tourism has become a priority sector, both in terms of support from IPARD funds, as well as from the national support scheme.
Immersed in collapse and with a protracted crisis that threatens to drive the agricultural sector into bankruptcy, surprisingly in January 2022 a dedicated call for IPARD funds was opened just for agritourism.
Initially, the Agricultural and Rural Development Agency of Albania (ARDA) announced that the budget for this call was 5.2 million euros. But in the middle of the year, ARDA announced that this fund would almost double, reaching 9.8 million euros. From this fund, 75% or 7.4 million euros are the contribution of the EU and 25% or 2.4 million euros are the contribution of the state budget.
At the end of the call, a total of 30 new businesses in the field of agritourism benefited from support, bringing the total number of enterprises to 90 with the aim of providing agritourism services, including accommodation.
On December 18 of last year, while the support from the IPARD III funds was discussed in the parliamentary economy committee, the Minister of Agriculture, Frida Krifca, took the MPs to see closely the success of an enterprise in Kashar, as a testimony and the effectiveness of IPARD funds.
“This is an important investment for Kashar, to attract visitors, with cuisine where the products of the village and the area prevail, which have a new marketing opportunity”, – wrote the Minister of Agriculture, on the social network “Facebook”, illustrating the visit with images from this agrotourism supported by IPARD.
Screenshot of Minister Frida Krifca’s post, December 2022
In March 2023 we got a close look at the winery promoted by the Minister of Agriculture. The guest house is located 15 km from Tirana, but quite different from the concept of agrotourism, it is actually a modern restaurant, located in the middle of Kashari. Surrounded by vineyards, this agritourism does not serve any traditional dishes. Even its menu does not contain anything related to the Albanian tradition, let alone the area itself.
Screenshot from the agrotourism menu in Kashar
And yet, this company was able to benefit in 2019, by applying to measure 7 “Rural Tourism”, from the funds of IPARD II fully 196 thousand euros, from 374 thousand euros which is the total project.
Screenshot of the azhbr.gov.al website for the beneficiaries of IPARD funds
The owner of this agrotourism, which also has a winery, has applied for “accommodation facilities on the farm, including all related facilities and equipment for providing B&B services (bed and breakfast)”.
The surrounding residents confirm that this new business has shown no interest in buying their agricultural products.
“We have village chickens, butter, milk, vegetables, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers…everything the village has, but this restaurant here has never asked us for them. We go to Tirana to sell them”, – some local people we meet along the road to the winery tell us.
Referring to the criteria established for those who want to develop agritourism, “the food and drinks offered in these structures must be no less than 30% in quantity originating from the farm; not less than 40% of their quantity sgould be of local origin, within the territory of the municipality where the agritourism activity is carried out, and not more than 30% of their quantity of different origin”.
Apart from the wine that is taken from the winery, this agrotourism has nothing else produced on its own, or by the area where it operates.
Experts also raise concerns that IPARD funds are being misused, and are not really going where the agricultural sector needs.
“These are not being done by farmers, but by businessmen. In other words, they have another successful business and they also do agritourism, to diversify their business”, says Eduart Sharka, from the farmers’ association. According to him, support for this sector cannot be missing, but it cannot be a priority employment sector for farmers.
Ervin Resuli, a veterinarian and quite familiar with the problems of agriculture and animal husbandry, shares the same opinion.
“Agritourism means investments that are put at the service of microfarms or people working in this field. In fact, there is abuse here. They build them in some village, they’ve got rooms, finally a restaurant, and buy their products in the supermarket. So they don’t buy them locally, which is what agrotourism is about”, says Resuli.
The Ministry of Agriculture itself explains to Faktoje that there is no favoritism for this sector.
“The agritourism sector is part of the ‘Nature and Rural Tourism’ sector, specifically “farm diversification and business development”. There is no favoritism, because the funds are dedicated according to the measures”, says the official response of the Ministry of Agriculture to Faktoje.
IPARD II, starting from 2018, has made available 94 million euros to support agriculture, with the aim of strengthening the production of agricultural and livestock products, which must be safe for the international market. IPARD III is currently in force, which will provide support until 2027.
However, experts think that the orientation of IPARD funds has slipped from the main focus. Referring to the structure of Albanian agriculture, they think that farmers who are engaged in agriculture, that is, those who produce, should be supported. This is also favored by the climatic position of our country, which manages to produce agricultural products 2 months before other countries in the region, giving it an advantage in exports. They see agritourism, on the other hand, as an auxiliary sector, which does not manage to overcome the limits of a household economy.
“It is interventions supporting farmers who produce agricultural products that should be the priority. We cannot turn agritourism into the national economy, so that it takes on weight and replaces the place that agricultural production has, as it remains only within the framework of a household economy. It cannot turn into industry”, says Eduart Sharka.
Even a report of the High State Audit has found that agrotourism in our country is progressing slowly. Institutions have given millions of euros, but there are no strategies, no policies. As a result, no one knows how productive this sector has been, making it impossible to measure the impact that these investments have brought to the development of the rural economy.
“Despite all the efforts made for the development of agritourism, the analysis of the data so far shows a lack of focus, agritourism does not appear to be part of a dedicated strategy, therefore there are no forecasts and data that show the long-term planning of the resources of financing and their trend”, it is stated in the 2021 High State Audit report, which monitored the agritourism sector. Page 8
As a result of this mess, the High State Audit says that statistics and official data related to agrotourism are completely missing. No one knows exactly how many of these subjects are there, how many are employed in this sector or the number of visitors who visit them.
“From the evidence collected during the audit, a general lack of official data was noticed when it comes to Albania and no public institution, including INSTAT, ARDA or the Ministry of Tourism and Environment, is producing data about agritourism”, – says the High State Audit.
“The lack of specific and up-to-date data on agritourism undermines the possibility of developing efficient policies for the development of the sector” – reports further the High State Audit.
From a telephone conversation with representatives of INSTAT regarding the collection of statistics on agritourism, we got the confirmation that INSTAT does not have any data of this nature.
Also, the High State Audit reports on the lack of monitoring of the funds used by the national scheme in the measure of agrotourism, during the years 2018-2020.
“Neither ARDA, nor the Ministry of Agriculture has monitored the investments made in the agritourism sector. The lack of monitoring of the return of these funds used for agritourism does not allow measuring the impact that these investments have brought to the final goal of the development of the rural economy and the effectiveness that the policies have had”, says the High State Audit report, which specifies when these projects are developed, they include many measurable indicators.
The Ministry of Agriculture itself confirms to Faktoje that, through the IPARD II and IPARD III program, the Ministry of Agriculture has defined measurable indicators for all the measures being implemented, but without giving explanations as to whether it has ever measured the efficiency of these funds.
The answer of the Ministry of Agriculture
Agritourism in the village of Gur i Bardhë, Klos
Avni Hysa, from the village of Gur i Bardhë, Mati, returned after 18 years of emigration to England to build a guesthouse on the grounds of the former old house. The money from emigration was not enough to fulfill his dream, so he applied for IPARD funds.
He was declared a winner, benefiting from a total support of 353 thousand euros, of which 172 thousand euros are contributions from EU funds and 57 thousand euros are support from the state budget.
“An agritourism with a seal of success right from the start, since the number of tourists who want to visit it is constantly increasing, also encouraged by the traditional products and the rare nature of this area of northern Albania”, – wrote Prime Minister Edi Rama, in the post of November 30, 2022, as he shared the views from the guesthouse “Te Mulliri” of Avni Hysa.
Avni himself is not so optimistic. This first year of operation has been very difficult for him.
“I don’t want to say that I have regretted it, because my wife is here next to me and she tells me “See, I told you.”, – he says with a laugh, as if to encourage himself.
“I was prepared that the first years would be difficult,” he continues. – let’s hope that things will start to change”.
Located by Arbër road, the village of Gurë i Bardhë is only 16 km from the city of Klos. But the tough terrain and lack of road infrastructure seems to be turning into a huge cost for those who want to build such a business.
“It is 4 km os unpaved road from Arbër road to our guesthouse, which makes it very difficult for customers to come, as it is a tough terrain and you must have a good car. “Generally, this road is used for “Rally” races that require difficult terrains,” Avniu asserts.
He confesses that almost all the authorities, including the mayor of Klos, have promised to pave the road, but so far nothing has been done.
“We have fresh products, as we get them from the village. Our workers are also local, as we still do not have a large flow of work. But we don’t have the road, if the road were to be built, I hope things would change”, concludes Avniu.
For Ervin Resuli, agritourism has benefits in certain areas, but this is only if tradition is made available to tourism. According to him, the best example is “Mirizi i Zanave” that has managed to turn the area into a real culinary attraction and revitalize its entire local economy.
“It is a positive initiative that should not be missing in the types of businesses that our country has, but it can never replace local producers. Those who are supposed to produce significant quantities of vegetables, milk, meat should meet the needs of the market or for export” – he concludes.