With the pandemic and conflict in Ukraine driving up fertilizer prices, Albanian farmer Alban Cakalli has turned to coffee, one of the Balkan country’s great loves, to feed his fields.
The 38-year-old farmer owns just half a hectare in the town of Mamurras in northwestern Albania, but still cannot afford the chemical fertilizers imported from abroad.
As in other parts of the world, Albania’s agricultural sector has been battered by rising costs, with fuel and fertilizer prices soaring after Russia, a major producer of both commodities, invaded Ukraine. basic.
To cut expenses, Cakalli turned to coffee grounds, a natural fertilizer whose stocks are readily available in Albania, where drinking the caffeinated drink remains a national pastime and where cafes dot almost every corners.
On average, Cakalli says he is able to harvest up to 40 kg of coffee grounds.
“Albanians are passionate about coffee,” he told AFP from his farm.
The process is time consuming, requiring him to first collect the used beans before mixing the soil with herbs and then composting the concoction for three months.
But the end product is “rich in nitrogen, magnesium and potassium and is a good substitute for chemical fertilizers” and “repels insects,” says Cakalli.
Many of Albania’s 280,000 small-scale farmers have reverted to similar traditional methods of enriching their soil rather than paying higher prices for imported fertilizers.
According to experts, fertilizers and fuels account for more than 45% of the country’s agricultural production costs.
For decades Albania relied on fertilizer imports after its factories were largely abandoned and dilapidated following the fall of its communist government in the early 1990s.
Russia was the top fertilizer exporter to Albania last year, worth a total of $11 million, according to the UN trade database.
By switching to coffee grounds, Cakalli says he saves between 1,500 and 2,000 euros ($1,550 and $2,070) per year.
As Covid has disrupted global trade, it has also diversified its operations on the ground.
He is now focusing on growing exotic crops – including passion fruit and goji berries – after the fruit was stopped from being imported from South America during the pandemic just as demand was starting to spike. increase.
“These fruits were in high demand because they are known to help boost the immune system and for their antioxidant properties,” says his wife Juli, a 34-year-old nurse.
This year alone, Cakalli has harvested half a ton of passion fruit which sells for around €15 per kilo, which is quite a lot in Albania where the average wage is €460.
“People like them very much, they smell fantastic and even better than those in the countries of origin because everything is fresh here,” says Cakalli.
Alban Zusi, an entrepreneur who produces organic fertilizer from animal waste in the Lezha region of northern Albania, said the price hike also comes with a “good side” and allows farmers to return to their roots.
Others in the industry tend to agree.
“Despite the difficulties, there are plenty of opportunities,” says Fatmir Ndoji, the chef of a well-known farm-to-table restaurant in the region. “To create pleasure for the palate, what counts is quality.”
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