23 Gennaio 2014

Helping families in Albania to grow herbs safely


Helping families in Albania to grow herbs safely

Albania, one of the drying buildings
Albania, one of the drying buildings

Albania is not called the Land of Eagles by chance: you can see them flying fiercely, looking beautiful as they open their wings while gliding the Northern Mountains – a landscape that long ago was much different than today.

From the North-Eastern mountains to the sweet Western hills and down to the sea, eagles know that the area of Shkodra was much greener than it is nowadays, due to years of deforestation and unregulated use.

On this spoiled land though, herbs have continued to grow, resilient and stubborn, as the local people, when they have to face a 6 month winter that forces them to stay at home until the snow melts or when they have a land to cultivate where even water refuses to flow and prefers to hide 150 meters deep.

Sage, Lavender and Thyme continue to grow even where the  most tenacious vine cannot. Women spin among and lean over these herbs they plant, watering them one by one, and protecting them from weeds until it is time to harvest. That is when the real problems begin.

As eagles do, women know that herbs can go bad in just a few hours if put under the sun. They look like they are dancing as they move the big tarpaulins where the herbs lay. All to prevent humidity from accumulating, mold developing and ultimately so months of work are not wasted.

Nevertheless, keeping all those herbs safe is not always possible. In certain unlucky years, 60% of the harvest can be lost due to insufficient drying. This represents a huge economic loss for people who make their living from the harvest.

This is where Oxfam Italia stepped in and focused its intervention: on the most critical phase of drying. We  built two big drying systems that can dry 18 tons of sage in just 15 days, thanks to natural airing and a plain but efficient structure.

Families bring their harvest here and collect it when it is perfectly dry, avoiding any losses due to rain. Women who belong to the cooperative know the importance of drying their herbs on these hangers; they know how much months of hard work wasted hurts. With not even a single leave lost, the cooperative foresees a less than 4 year payback time for a quarter of the structure that they co-financed.

Through these interventions, Oxfam Italia supports farming and cooperation between farmers, and guarantees income to the poorest families in Albania, restoring hope in a better future.


By Serena Guidobaldi

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