Prospects bright for crop genetic diversity in Albania

The typically rich and well adapted crop diversity of Albania is facing an unprecedented threat. A two-year FAO project set to conclude with a national workshop here tomorrow has responded to that threat – by developing a resilient new system for documenting and monitoring this priceless resource.

The typically rich and well adapted crop diversity of Albania is facing an unprecedented threat. A two-year FAO project set to conclude with a national workshop here tomorrow has responded to that threat – by developing a resilient new system for documenting and monitoring this priceless resource.

Albania’s rich crop diversity has been a long time in the making. The soils, climate and geographic position of the country have contributed, over centuries, to the adaptation and development of a large number of crops and varieties important for food security. Crops like wheat, maize, beans, vegetables, fruit trees, grapevines and olives received special focus in the project.

In addition, roughly fifty-years of isolation from neighbouring countries, as well as the small-scale farming system that dominates the country, allowed for the conservation and development of highly adapted local crop varieties maintained by Albanian farmers.

A wide range of wild and cultivated crops are an important genetic resource for the food and agriculture in Albania. The FAO project has collected in the Country’ Plant Genetic Bank more than 500 wild and cultivated crops’ seeds.

In recent years, though, changes in land use, higher rates of urbanization and emigration, and changing climatic conditions have caused the genetic erosion of locally adapted varieties – in both major and minor crops.

“The genetic variation that exists in cultivated varieties of crops serves as the basis for agricultural development and food security,” said Stefano Diulgheroff, FAO information management officer. “If local crop diversity were to decline, or even worse be lost, it would jeopardize the country’s ability to increase yields, develop quality products and adapt and expand agricultural practices.”

With support from Albania’s Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development and Water Management, and from the Agricultural University of Tirana, the project put many activities in motion. Professionals were trained on how to apply geo-referencing tools to monitor and manage endangered and locally adapted crop varieties. Crop diversity of selected crops was documented. Germplasm from crops and their important wild relatives was collected and stored in long-term conservation facilities. State-of-the-art technology was used for data gathering, data sharing, and mapping the distribution of genetic diversity.

Finally, this knowledge was used to develop a National Information Sharing Mechanism for monitoring crop diversity in Albania with the contribution of the Albanian University of Tirana and the Agriculture Technology Transfer Centres.

“This project, and the establishment of this networking mechanism, is only the beginning,” said Jetika Spahiu, specialist in extension and technologies with the Ministry of Agriculture. “This improved and resilient system for managing local varieties will contribute directly to the preservation of existing plant resources which serve as the basis for the sustainable intensification of crop production, and to sound policies for the years to come.”

The newly established Coordination Council on Plant Genetic Resources will focus on the preparation of a National Strategy and Implementation Programme on Plant Genetic Resources. An important part of this program will be the improvement of legal framework and the financial support of the farmers through subsidy schemes.

At the final workshop, experts from the Albanian Genetic Resources Centre, the Agricultural University of Tirana, and FAO will make presentations on the project’s achievements, on management and ongoing use of the National Information Sharing Mechanism, and follow-up to the project.

16 November 2015, Tirana, Albania