Support for farmers to increase year by year 

Prime Minister Edi Rama’s remarks at Agricultural University of Tirana:

 

We came here to the Agricultural University today, as we thought it is important to share primarily with the farmers’ community and the public opinion what has been already done to further enhance credibility and sensitiveness to this process that, as the farmer who took the floor said, it was viewed with mush distrust.

Naturally it could not be viewed otherwise as long as this was a very long-standing demand and a very long-standing commitment over so many years, but we say what we do we do what we say and in case we do not always deliver on what we seek to do faster, it doesn’t mean either that we forgot it or that it will not be done.

Today I feel really glad we witness several tangible evidence in this process. First the evidence showing that around 20,000 farmers have benefited support under this process, the hard evidence proving that the fast and transparent system created by the e-Albania platform works for everyone, who wishes to work and everyone who trusts this system, regardless of whether they live in a city or countryside, regardless of whether they live in country’s central part or its remote areas. We witness the evidence that one, by presenting a single document alone, can easily access the excise-free oil fund for farmers, which has been made earmarked and made available by the government, completely different from what has been happening once or twice in the past, when previous administrations have sought to do the same thing. The funding has been made available to farmers across the country through a completely transparent system.

The other reason I deemed it important to personally come here is also the place where this event is taking place, because I believe that the Agricultural University is one of the strategic centres, where the country’s development is projected, where the know-how is provided to a sector, which will keep developing and where every young boy and girl who enrol and attend this University will be provided the opportunity to develop skills needed to enter the labour market, which is increasingly becoming more dynamic, increasingly more complex and where skills and know-how are increasingly on demand.

Unfortunately, this University and its certain branches are often subject to prejudice.

The Rector and the University’s management team are concerned over a declining interest, but I am confident we will succeed in clearly conveying the message and its content showing totally the opposite and the interest will certainly grow, since Albania, thanks to the reorganization of the Agricultural and Rural Development Agency and its leadership, has ushered in another financing space, namely the European Union-funded programmes for agricultural and rural development. Thanks to ARDA leadership, Albania tops the region regarding attraction of the EU funds and it was just few years ago when the country lagged behind in terms of attracting the EU funds.

We rank first in the region in terms of the funds earmarked for agriculture and rural development.

However, know-how is required for everyone to be entitled to the EU funding for agriculture through well-designed projects, with in addition to what you have written, you should also demonstrate you own a small or big agricultural enterprise, according to the programme categories, which works and for a small or big agricultural enterprise to work more competent and learned people are needed. The farmers’ incredible experience should increasingly combine with new financing mechanisms the EU has granted after taking notice of the country’s development, and not only that, but also the performance of these enterprises should keep growing in order for these funding to be justified.

We all acknowledge that the world and Europe in particular heavily supports agriculture and rural development through subsidies.This is true, but not a single cent is given away in Europe and elsewhere around the world, if they are not convinced that the funding will be guided to the right direction in terms of the sector’s efficiency.

We have set an ambitious yet fully realizable goal to make sure that Albania’s agricultural exports are valued at over $ one billion in the next four years. The country’s agricultural exports are currently valued at $400 million. When we took over, the value was half of the today’s amount and we can afford now to aim much higher, as value of agricultural values increased to over $400 million from $150 million when we took office, despite the chaos we inherited. We are confident we will definitely increase value of the country’s agricultural exports to $one billion.

Trebling the country’s exports during the first two terms has been a tough job, as everything had to start almost from zero in terms of the state’s approach to agriculture, in terms of the state’s support for this sector and in terms of the state’s involvement, whereas a number of enterprises and joint ventures among farmers across the country had clearly demonstrated that not only it was possible, but Albania had all the potential that if properly exploiting its sources and its agricultural and rural development potential it could become a regional champion for agricultural exports and today, no matter how strange it may sound for those who don’t follow this sector, we rank first in the region, outdoing even Serbia, which is a big country and everyone knows its agricultural tradition. However, a lot remain to be done in terms of the overall agricultural production, a lot remain to be done to harmonize, because, as Dhimo Kotja, who has taught me the agriculture’s alphabet, says you can’t be a lone wolf in agriculture, since it is impossible to withstand the tremendous competition pressure, both as a country and as an individual. One should not plant whatever he wants to  – this is what Dhimo says and I am just quoting him – but you should be informed in advance and explore what species of crops would provide you access to the market, a market you can then expand, no longer by taking the streets to complain why you are throwing the locally grown produce away, because the state doesn’t purchase them, since everybody should know that in a system we have chosen to live in since the ‘90s the state doesn’t purchase products, but helps farmers grow by harmonizing private interests not in the form of the communist-era cooperatives, which of course is unimaginable and doesn’t work in this system.

The measures we have taken to promote agriculture and the sector’s increased figures as a result of these measures are historical ones. They are historic because today we are in a situation when we no longer merely aim, but in fact, the key support and relieving measures that farmers have been asking for since the early 1990s when they realized that in this new type of system, agriculture cannot be addressed just like everyone else because there is a need for a lasting alliance, between the farmer and the state.

On the other hand, we possess today the highest potential financing measure for agriculture and I would like to tell the participating students, as well as other students attending this university, but also to all of those who are now considering which university to enroll, that this is the right place to acquire the needed knowledge and earn through your skills and know how a lot more than a monthly salary, this university is the right place, becoming an added value to a sector, which will increasingly need qualified human resources, becoming also an added value to help in projects development, analyze performance of agricultural companies and enterprises by offering consultancy as agronomist and actually earn a lot more than just a monthly salary.

A learned man can now earn a lot more in agriculture sector today than he or she would be earning if migrating abroad and doing an ordinary job anywhere. Of course this would take efforts to move, establish contacts with more people than in one job position, but this is of course doable.

Just as it is quite clear that when it comes to rural development as a whole, we are not talking only about agricultural production or livestock production, but also about two other new industries. Fishing is not a nascent industry, but an old tradition. However, in terms of being an industry with significant economic impact on the country’s development, it is still a nascent industry. When we embarked on efforts to develop this industry, which used to be a space of boats sailing without a compass and used to sail to Italy just to fill their boats with oil while fishing in Albania’s territorial waters, as they were totally ignored and disregarded, the fish and seafood exports were valued less than EUR 20 million. The country’s fish exports are estimated at over EUR 100 million today. Our today’s fishing fleet is still far from being the one I think, dream and I am confident will be, yet no comparisons can be drawn with the recent past.

Agrotourism is a much newer industry, which requires skilled and learned people to help those who invest and serve. The more know-how becomes available to the agrotourism, the more attractive this industry’s products will be, because after all it is not about just a guesthouse, two waters and a business owner, but it is about an entirety of products that make the difference.

The scheme, not only won’t be discontinued, but it will further expand to increase financial support. The objective is that, if today we have earmarked an amount of 10 million in support for excise-free oil for farmers, we expect to grow this support to over 15 million in 2025. This is our objective. This is not an election campaign, as elections are now over, so I am speaking today here, together with Milva and others, on behalf of a political party that has secured a new term and in 2025 we will again be held accountable and take stock of our accomplishments to deliver on what we have said and I, we don’t forget what we have actually said prior to elections. But elections are now over.

This is the objective, not to discontinue support, but instead increase it every year in order to expand the number and stimulate farmers do the few things that need to be done, which have been done by 20,000 farmers, to formalize and join a system where you cannot develop informally.

Our goal is to triple the greenhouse areas and further diversify production, which is again totally possible, as we have already seen how it has been working and we have witnessed the results of expanded greenhouse areas. We today have a significant increase in greenhouse areas, but the potential is much more significant and therefore we need to move forward on this direction.

We want to double funding and expand the range of support through the national schemes and not only through the EU-funded programmes. Starting next January, rural Albania, you and entire farmers’ community will be eligible to benefit support through a fund of EUR 146 million, thanks to ARDA that has succeeded in earning direct trust of the European Commission. The amount of EUR 146 million is a significant amount, but it takes a better organization and stronger interaction between the government, state authorities and farmers.

Information systems are essential. We have entered a process of acquiring three super intelligent drones that will radically change the way this state will collect information on its territory, how this state can process the information in real time, provide transparency over everything taking place in the territory, without having to dispatch inspectors and check for illegal constructions, illegal forest logging, damaging rivers or to control production. Through the super intelligent drones, we will be able to gather 24-hour real-time information on entire cultivated agricultural land throughout Albania and have an aerial detailed picture to the last square meter of the land, which will clearly show not only the area of the cultivated land today, but also the sort of crops and plants in every square centimetre, as well as to maximally ease the horrible interaction with the State Cadastre to have clear idea about every land plot. These systems will help you, the state and our interactions a lot.

Ronald Regan always used to reiterate an anecdote of his, saying: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.” Of course, what he meant was that it is primarily the individual the one who decides his own destiny and the government is there to help and support any individual.

This has direct value as a concept when it comes to agriculture. If farmers do not pull the government and instead they expect the government to pull them back, there could be no success, but only status quo and failure. If farmers pull the government, then the government is put to the test, whether or not it is able to follow them. Fortunately, the words I am uttering today are actually a reality, because farmers and agricultural enterprises across the territory of the Republic of Albania, from Tropoje to Konispol, are pulling the government and are leading the way through the power of their examples, saying: “Here we are, even without your help, but we would advance a lot further if your support us.”

My message for everyone is that you primarily need great self-confidence and a strong will to move forward, realizing once and for all that if alone you can’t accomplish what you would accomplish if joining your forces in this sector, with everyone eventually earning his share of profit by jointly deciding what, where and how to sell your products.

Thank you so much everyone!

I very much hope and we will do whatever it takes to make sure that university students feel increasingly better here and increasingly become an added value to the agricultural sector. This is somehow irrelevant to the topic of the today’s meeting, yet it is part of it. Together with the minister and the university rector we have launched a process to bring Vienna’s Agricultural University, one of the world’s best university for agriculture, with the goal to make sure that the Agricultural  University of Tirana becomes an address where both Albanian and international students attend Vienna University curricula and degree programs and make sure that this becomes the Agricultural University of Vienna in Tirana within a decade, where lessons are taught both in English and Albanian and the university campus be an international campus. It sounds like a dream, but if we are not courageous enough to dream big, we are destined to go through painful failures.

Thank you so much everyone!