Somewhere, in the Karavasta lagoon, there are thousands of hectares of non-arable land, because salinity does not tolerate plant growth. But thanks to the consultations with the Israeli experts this land has turned into “gold” as the first pomegranate trees and goji berry are flourishing. The Agro Iliria Group is developing an investment plan in one of the largest farms in Europe, including 1100 hectares for growing pomegranate, goji berry, a space for agro tourism and a golf course. The initial investment is 6.6 million euros, but it is expected to be further increased.
In April last year, the Strategic Investment Council granted Agro Iliria the status of strategic investor for an initial investment value of 6.6 million euros. It was about 800 hectares of land, where the company had applied and benefited the land with a contract of 1 euro to be used for 99 years. But why exactly was the space chosen in the New Karavasta area.
“For a business plan like this, it needed a huge land space, with no property conflicts, which can not be found in Myzeqe. This land remained unexploited because the level of salinity was to such an extent that most plants did not tolerate it. Today, in the part where we have pomegranates and goji berry, the salinity indicator has dropped to 1500-2000. We have a special system that has brought the reduction of salinity ” says the administrator of Agro-Iliria Group Shpetim Oseku.
The tree structure is 70 centimeters tall and is equipped with condensed water all the time, which makes the rinse or the removal of salt. We have built an irrigation lake with a capacity of 250 thousand m³ of water. Through the built-up system, we control the amounts of water to these plants, “Oseku explains.
This system, according to him, is entirely a novelty in Albania and is therefore consulted with experts from Israel. Step by step, the system has adapted to Albania’s conditions and is successful. You can clearly see the plantation planted with pomegranates and goji berries which looks normal, while on the adjacent plantation where the work has not started yet , you can see a rare vegetation, typical of salt-rich soils and that will soon become brown, due to salt and high temperatures. You can see the salt clearly, even in the spaces from one row to the other between pomegranates and goji berries.
Before deciding on plants that could endure salinity, the Agro Iliria Group considered several options and decided that in the finale between the fig tree, the twig, the pomegranate and the goji berry to choose the last two, to develop its plan.
Difficulty in labor force and Product Certification
It is not the first time businesses complain about the labor force. Agriculture seems to be no exception.There are 30 full-time employees at Agro Iliria farms, while at the time of harvesting, 70 others are employed with a seasonal contract. The average salary, according to Osek, for full-time employees fluctuates somewhere to around 45,000 ALL, but although at this level, the difficulty of finding workers remains high.
“We find it very difficult to recruit employees, especially during harvesting time and we need more people. This is difficult because today’s village is organized in such a way that it has no labor force. People work on their land. The rest work in the city, they do not prefer this kind of job. The other reason is immigration, where young people prefer to flee, “Oseku says. In its expansion potential of 1100 hectares, we need to employ at least 1,600 employees. Everything produced on the farm is bio. So there is no use of chemical fertilizers. We have paved 250 kilometers of pipes scattered on the plantation and the water coming from the reservoir that we have raised is mixed with organic fertilizer and then distributed organically to the parcels. Today we have certified goji berries in Spain as “bio” and pomegranates certified by Global G.A.P .We want to offer a unique experience of how to live in the village.
Within this space there will be stables for horses, cows, and sheep. There is also space for 200 caravans with tourists who would like to stay, “Oseku said. In the heart of the farm, there is also a church surrounded by cypress trees, which is like a green oasis in the heart of all this salty soil, where the vegetation does not reach more than a few centimeters. This is exactly the area where the part of the agrotourism will be developed, certainly distanced from the church, which, as Shpëtim Oseku explains, will be preserved in all its values and will be restored. He tells us that, according to the legend, it is said that fresh and drinkable water springs only from that church area, which is also supported by the fact that we have trees that have survived and grown in the conditions of extreme salinity surrounding the area.
Another investment to be made in this area is a golf course. Albania is said to become a destination for this kind of tourism development, through investments akin to this one, but so far there has been no significant investment. Osek emphasizes that this time, it will not simply remain on paper, but it is included in the short-term plans.