Olives and olive oil in Albania

(from “Report on existing GAPs and Best Practices”) Olive and olive oil sector is one of the most important sectors in terms of number of farmers involved (up tol00,000), contribution to income and food, contribution to the environment as well as regarding other factors (history, potential links to (agritourism etc.). Production and consumption of olives and olive oil in Albania dates back thousands of years and today olives and olive oil are important food items in Albanian households.

Cultivation of olives has grown in Albania especially in the late 2000ies and early 2010ies partially triggered by governmental subsidy schemes. The Albanian production of olives has been increasing faster than the world production trends. Production has increased substantially when compared to 2010, reaching 100 thousand tons, although there are strong oscillations from year to year. During the same period, the production base (number of trees) is also doubled.

The suitable areas for olive growing suitable are divided in two different agro-ecological zones, broadly marked by the river Shkumbin and by the limits between Fier and Elbasani regions. The differences between these agro-ecological zones have an impact on suitable cultivars and agronomic service needs; autochthon olive varieties are also different.
At international level, Albania is not a major actor and operates in a geographic area, the Mediterranean, which hosts all the most competitive actors at World level. As such, the Albanian producers face strong competition both in the local and regional/international markets.

The olive and olive oil sector are almost totally destined for the domestic market, with international flows accounting less than 3% of volumes and value; there a limited trade deficit ranging around 2.2 M Euro per year, which is decreasing for olive oil, thanks to increasing exports; trade deficit is slightly increasing for table olives.
Olive sector has been a priority sector for government and donor support. Olive production was the beneficiary of several National Support Schemes, including the largest one ever delivered so far (407 M ALL between 2007 and 2013), specifically devoted to expand and modernize the primary production base. However, olive and olive oil were not supported under IPARD II.

Primary production is relatively concentrated: six municipalities (out of 61) produce 42% to 44% of the olives for olive oil production and one region, Berat, accounts for almost half of all table olives production. The production structure is quite fragmented, with the 80% of farms having less than 2 ha, which in most common olive groves correspond to 200-250 plants.

The production base has broadly doubled in the last decade, growing from 4.3 to 8.2 million trees in production; output has increased substantially but yields remain very low (12 to 15 kg per tree); there are even signs decreasing yields, even when considering strong oscillations from year to year. The growth of the production base and the contemporary stagnation of the productivity are a unique feature of the olive sector, as in many other sectors higher productivity was the driver to production growth. The main reasons for this situation are i) many new plantations were incentive- driven, ii) olive plantations are perceived by non-specialised farmers and non-farmers landowners as an activity that bear production without much care will and also as a mean to reassert property rights where such rights are uncertain iii) in general, olives receive much less care than other fruit cultivations and also the introduction of innovations is slower, iv) New plantations were often not properly planned and controlled, with the result that often poor quality propagation material was used and varieties not adequate to the pedoclimatic conditions were used.

Within this general framework, the situation is different when considering olives used for olive oil production and table olives. The distinction between cultivations oriented to olive oil production or table olives has become more pronounced. Specialised table olives producers are also generally more professional and organised. The table olives production cluster in Berat is unique and different in terms of coordination with other geographic areas where olive production for olive oil is concentrated (Fier, Vlora, Elbasan, Berat itself). However, there is still a sizable production of “double purpose” cultivars (e.g., Mixan, an autochthon cultivar), part of the olives for olive production is still treated to produce table olives and undersized table olives are mixed to other olives for olive oil production.

Olive-oil oriented production

Olives for olive oil production represent about 90% of total output. Main production areas are Fier, Vlore and Elbasan. The new plantations established after 2007 shifted the core olive-oil oriented production areas which now include: i) An area including the Northern part of Vlora and the whole region of Fier and, ii) parts of Elbasani region. The South-West coast (the area South of Vlora), and the area of Tirana lost part of their importance as core production area.

This evolution is particularly negative with reference to the South-West coast, which is among the most vocated area of the country and the place where operate some of the most reputed quality- oriented oil mills of the country. That would be an ideal area to establish a Gl or a PDO, but depopulation, difficult pedological! conditions and lack of investments do not provide a positive outlook. Olive groves in this region are generally old and may become more a factor of tourism attraction than a production resource in some areas.

The olive oil processing industry is broadly structured in three clusters:

  1. Small and medium sized oil mills mainly dealing with oil milling service provision and wholesale trade of olive oil,
  2. Medium-large sized processors/bottlers which operate their olive processing lines and buy olive oil in bulk from small and medium-sized oil mills and integrate domestic supplies with imports, and,
  3. Small qualitative oil mills, which primarily buy olives and process it for sale with their brand. These enterprises also provide olive milling services and buy olive oil from growers immediately after processing, when the quality of olive oil is good enough for their standards. They regularly participate to international olive oil quality competitions and export in Western European and US markets. Several of them are certified for organic production and at least one also for kosher production.

Production of table olives is strongly concentrated in the region of Berat, Fier and Elbasan which together produce more than 80% of the total domestic production. Even through 2019 was characterized by low production of table olives in Berat, compared to the previous year (highlighted above), its production levels still dominate the national production levels. In Berat, there are also several enterprises which are engaged in processing of table olives (e.g., preserved table olives).

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