Baltimore, MD (IOCC) Farmers in rural areas of Kosovo, Montenegro and Albania are learning that making simple changes in their approach to crops and the care for their animals can make a significant difference in the productivity of their small farms.
For people whose livelihoods are dependent on the land, these changes and the information they are learning together can also make a dramatic difference in their lives.
IOCC, working in cooperation with Diakonia Agapes of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania and the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of Maryland, is undertaking a regional effort to help rural farmers increase their income and improve sustainable access to food for families.
Farmer-to-farmer exchanges facilitated by IOCC over the past six months have aimed to help farmers gain knowledge through interactive learning and encourage local, collaborative decision-making in agricultural communities.
In the village of Shushice, Albanian farmers received training on insects and diseases that affect late season vegetables and instruction on how to conduct tests to measure soil texture.
By protecting vegetables planted later in the season from insects, the farmers are able to bring higher quality products to market in greater quantities. Equipped with the knowledge about the soil texture, the farmers can better gauge the most productive type of crops to grow and the proper quantity of fertilizer to apply to their crops. The project not only helps the farmers to be more productive, but also provides a greater supply of fresh vegetables for the local communities.
Field schools held in the region have given farmers the opportunity to discuss problems they face.
By bringing farmers together, networks of learning have been developed to provide support for tackling problems they share in common. Topics identified by the farmers have included the proper preparation and care of a seed bed, transplanting measures for saplings, tomato production in greenhouses, and technical information for mushrooms, herbs, onions, lettuce and garlic.
Throughout the region the program aims to help farmers better utilize available natural resources by sustaining and increasing the production of locally grown foods. Farmers and processors also learned new methods to increase farm income and expand market opportunities through things like handling, packaging, storage, and processing.
In the village of Donja Rapea in Kosovo, families established a centralized collection center for wild plants and herbs and have linked up with buyers to open up a market for locally grown products that will provide a sustainable source of income.
The collection center was equipped through a grant of $11,500 and is managed by a local association for the benefit of the community. Through small fees paid by those who use the center, the rented facility will be sustained and families will be able to sell wild edible mushrooms and herbs. The center offers a renewable and important source of income for the people of this remote village.
In November, representatives of the farming communities from Kosovo, Montenegro and Albania came together in Berane, Montenegro for a meeting to discuss the project and share lessons learned. Based on the positive experience of the farmers, IOCC and its partners are currently seeking funding to expand the initiative in the region.