Lack of perspective and subsidies in agriculture halves the inhabitants of Kukes villages

Musa Hila, 58 years old, resident in the Administrative Unit “Malzi” of Kukës, in 1992 planted 2 hectares of land with corn and beans and 1 acre and a half in watermelon. However, this year he has managed to plant only 5 acres, mainly with wheat due to financial difficulties and lack of information on network applications in the Agency for Agricultural and Rural Development (ARDA), which has prevented the benefit of subsidies granted by the Ministry of Agriculture. The toll stations in Kalimash are an added financial burden even when agricultural vehicles are transported as cargo.

“I bought the vehicle 8 million old lekë only thanks to the children in emigration. There is no chance of having support from the government”, says Hila, while adding that he has paid the tax for his agricultural vehicle at the tolls of the “Rruga e Kombit”.

“In the Albanian toll, in addition to the car I was transporting the vehicle, they took an additional tax of 690 new lek for the vehicle I had loaded in the back. This is absurd,” he said.

Agriculture provides jobs for the majority of the population in the Administrative Unit “Malzi” of Kukes, while the non-agricultural private sector has a low impact on overall employment.

This unit has 180 hectares of agricultural land and plots, 494 hectares of non-productive land and 1323 hectares of barren land. “Farmer’s Window”, managed by ARDA, provides services to farmers, information on applications, access to funding, but farmers in these villages of Kukes do not benefit from support schemes. Farmers of Malzi in Kukës buy agricultural tools, planting seeds and plant nutrients with their own money.

According to the staff member of the Administrative Unit, Kujtim Beqiri, many residents do not benefit from ARDA support schemes due to non-registration of land in the Immovable Property Registration Office under law no. 20/2020, and lack of a farmer’s card. The two villages, Gdheshtë and Piste, have no registered meters of land. “In the Malzi Administrative Unit, the application process by farmers for diesel and gasoline has encountered difficulties because they do not own the land and the plots are smaller than an acre, 500 meters. The number of farmers who have land is small. But the farmers have not registered all their hectares, because they did not want this to hinder the benefit of economic aid “, explains Beqiri. “There is land that has remained registered in the names of fathers who have already died,” he concludes.

After a request for information addressed to the Agency for Agricultural and Rural Development on the number of farmers benefiting from national support schemes in the Municipality of Kukes, the latter responded that potential applications which could benefit from funds from the state budget are a total of 149.

“Based on the lists of applications published on the official website of ARDA, in which is located the funding line for each of the measures, we inform you that potential applications which can benefit funds from the state budget are as follows:

  1. There are 98 applications for support measures of basic livestock herds;
  2. There are 50 applications for the support measure of beehive parks;
  3. For the measure of Organic farms there is 1 application”. In the draft law “On the state budget 2021”

The Minister of Finance and Economy, Anila Denaj, presented the scheme for the economic development of agriculture, where she stated: “Agriculture will continue to benefit in real terms 0.8% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) for the period of 2021-2023. The number of beneficiaries from the scheme of support measures in agriculture is increasing”.

For the economics expert in Kukës, Sabah Gaxha, farmers do not meet the ARDA criteria, but the subsidies themselves for the latter are not economically sufficient. “The main reason why there are few applications is because one of the criteria set by ARDA is land ownership. Farmers in Kukës have land, but no papers. The conditions set by ARDA cannot be met. In the last meetings where I was part of ARDA, the farmers who have over 100 heads of small livestock are worried because the Ministry of Agriculture subsidizes them very little with about 500 thousand old lekë per subject. Keeping 100 heads of livestock has economic costs, and ARDA subsidies are not enough. The fact that there are very few farmers in Kukës is also the fee they pay in the state. The fee for registration, vaccination goes approximately 5200 old lekë for each head of livestock”, notes Gaxha, while adding that the funds provided by the state budget for Agriculture are small, compared to the other two countries in the region.

“Other countries in the region have more financial support for agriculture than us, for example: Macedonia and Kosovo have more than Albania”, explains Gaxha.

Young people leaving farming

ARDA Director Frida Krifca in 2020 stressed the need for a new mentality for agriculture. According to her, the younger generation should be educated with a love for agriculture. But her appeal seems to have fallen on “deaf ears” in the villages of Kukes. According to the data provided by the Civil Registry of Kukës in the Administrative Unit “Malzi” from 1989 to 2021, the number of inhabitants has decreased by 50%, compared to 1989. According to the inhabitants this decrease in population has come as a result of the migration of young people towards European Union countries, Great Britain or domestic urban areas.

Number of families through the years in the Administrative Unit of “Malzi”Kukës

With a massive migration of young people, the only way to keep alive the Malzi farmers’ passion for working the land has been remittance income.

 

Number of residents of the Malzi Administrative Unit during the years / Source: Civil Registry

“The big problem is the departure of young people. Agriculture needs labor. In our area we only have elders in our homes. If we do not have the money that our children bring us from abroad, I do not know how we would continue to cover the costs of planting the land”, concludes Musa Hila.

The Labor Office in Kukës also shows the increasing trend of job applications of young people aged 15-29 towards professions far away from Agriculture. To our request for information to the National Employment and Skills Agency of Kukës, the institution responded that “The most requested professions by young people registered in the Kukës Labor Office are as follows: nurse; teacher; other services worker; Social Work and Security”.

Number of pupils in the 9-year schools during the last 15 years/Source: Local Education Office

The phenomenon of young people leaving these villages is also noticed in the data provided by the Local Education Office of Kukës, where the number of 9-year cycle pupils in 2020 has decreased by 73 percent compared to 2005.

The 14-year-old student with the initials S.B. is in the 9th grade at the “Shemri” United High School. He worries about the departure of his peers in these villages. “Students have always left our area, continuing their education in other countries. Many friends have left, not only from my class, but also from other classes.”

Number of students in the High-School cycle during the last 15 years/ Source: Local Education Office

Even the number of students in the secondary cycle continues the decline for these villages that provide livelihood income from agriculture and remittances. The year 2019 had only 49 students in secondary education, the year with the fewest students since 2006.

In the tenth grade in the school of this Administrative Unit, the student with the initials J.M dwells on demographic problems: “Many students I was friends with have left the country and many continue to flee abroad. We all have I our mind a constant thought of leaving the village. Very soon all this Administrative Unit will be abandoned, all people will leave “. J.M. himself sees the same solution, following the trend of other young people leaving his country. “I want to go to Germany to make money. I see a lot of people who have finished high school in my country and have not been able to find work.”

The ministry subsidizes diesel, but it is bought in cans

On the one hand, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development has stated that the process of distributing free oil to all farmers starts on January 15th of this year (2021) and the MARD is on its way to enable the successful implementation of this promise the government has made to the farmer. MARD, to the question whether oil for these small farmers of this municipality has suffered a reduction in price and how much has been this reduction, answered:

“According to point 6, Chapter II, of the Instruction of the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development no. 1, dated 8.1.2021 “On the criteria, procedures and manner of administration of the oil support scheme for agriculture”, as amended, the benefit of the amount of free oil for the area under cultivation is as follows:

  1. a) Applicants with an area up to 10 ha, benefit 100% of the amount of oil according to the norms set out in Annex 3, attached to this instruction;
  2. b) Applicants with an area over 10 ha, for an area over 10 ha, receive the amount of oil with corrected / reduced norms when the amount of available oil does not meet all the requirements for these areas. “

On the other hand, farmers in the village of Mgullë in Kukës not only do not receive oil for free, but buy it on the black market. Arjan Çiku, the son of a small farmer, says that they do not get oil through the oil card because there is a lack of fuel for agricultural tools in the center of the village. “We get the diesel in a store with 5-liter cans because we do not have a gas station. We have not had help from the government for this problem. We pay 750 lekë for a 5 liter can of oil “, claims Arjani.

Qemal Memishaj, head of the Directorate of Agriculture Kukës, in an interview with RTSH Kukës stressed that the limited number of oil cards comes as a result of lack of ownership over the land. “Currently, until the day we are talking, about 40 farmers have received the Oil Card. We have 20 cards that will be distributed in two, three days and the rest that remain are about 25 farmers who will receive their cards. The limited number of farmers comes as a result of the lack of land ownership documents”, explains Memishaj.

The land that is still cultivated and planted with the help of horses

 

“Bridge” of the village Mgullë, Kukës

The demolition of a bridge since last year’s winter has held hostage 10 families of farmers in the village of Mgullë, who on this bridge carried out the transport of tools, agricultural products and livestock. According to them, local institutions are not interested in their livelihood in the village. “Now that the river level is falling in summer, we have managed to cross the agricultural means over the river, but this is a dangerous thing, because the river can take down the agricultural means, economically damaging our families, that we have invested for them.”  says Çiku.

Petkaj village bridge, Kukës

The same problem is observed with the bridge which connects the village of Petkaj with the houses and lands on the other side of the village. Ram Skaci, for 15 years has been working and planting his land and that of several other villages on horseback. The only access road to his house is a cable held and degraded bridge, which swings as he walks over it. The lack of a suitable means of traversing the river has made him continue to work the land with pack animals. “I work the land with a hoe, I have nothing to do. An engineer from the Municipality has come, but they don’t plan to invest because only one house is beyond this bridge. I myself do not have the possibility to build it”, emphasizes Skaci.

The lack of investments in infrastructure, the ignorance of the residents on the subsidies available for agriculture and the impossibility of their benefit, as well as the lack of perspective and the abandonment of the area by the younger generation, has pushed the residents of an entire area in Kukës to abandon their main means of livelihood and see the future away from their homes, in the main cities of Albania, or even in emigration.