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Report Summaries: Rural Communities

Project B127: 'Replacing Medicinal Chemicals Extracted from Wild Plants in Albania'

Albania is one of the world’s main producers of aromatic herbs used in the pharmaceutical and food industries. However, a large fraction of the country’s output is coming from unregulated and illegal wild harvesting. This is causing serious damage to Albania’s rich biological heritage and damaging the fragile mountain environment in which many of them grow. The practice is unsustainable.

This pilot project aimed to demonstrate that cultivation can provide a viable alternative to wild collection as a source of medicinal chemicals and culinary flavouring, and that, coupled with an effective public information programme, it can reduce the threat to the fragile mountain ecosystems and important biodiversity. The project focused on one of the poorest regions of Albania, Kukes in the north east, and targeted local farmers, herb collectors, school children and opinion-formers. The project took two years and cost $39,960. It was carried out by the Rural Association Support Programme in association with the Kukes Farmers’ Federation and Powerful Information.

The report describes how the project was established; the research that was carried out into herb cultivation; and the growth trials that were run on four demonstration plots (with some 75,000 seedlings). It also discusses the training that was organised for 112 farmers from four communes; and the capacity-building work with the Kukes Farmers’ Federation. The outreach programme included training 24 biology teachers from local schools, supporting four micro-projects (including setting up two herb gardens), and producing and distributing various educational materials, including 300 copies of a poster on medicinal herbs and a short training video that was shown on local TV.

The project has been a success: herb exporters, who analysed samples of the cultivated herbs, confirmed a better quality of product with a higher concentration of essential oils and offered increased prices (up 7-11% depending on the herb). It has also contributed to improving our understanding of how rare medicinal plants can be cultivated, and has gone some way to changing public attitudes to local practices that have over the last two decades done so much damage to biodiversity in Albania.

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