Medicinal plants: the must of the Balkans
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Pëce, 5 July 202
25 kilometres from Pëce, at the foot of the mountains of the Prokletije National Park, alt. max. 2700m, we have the chance to visit Agroproduct SH.P.K. Founded in 2002 by Halit Avdijaj after 18 years of exile in German-speaking Switzerland.
His idea: in a Kosovo decimated by war, to build a network of growers and pickers in order to ensure an income for local farming communities. 20 years later, 3200 producers and pickers are affiliated to Agroproduct. 270 hectares under contract, including 100 hectares under direct cultivation. We are discovering a quality of "organic" products never before seen on an industrial scale sold to Swiss and German industrialists.
20 years of continuous development
The success of Agroproduct is the result of the vision and commitment of its founder Halit who built a totally controlled flow from seed production to wholesale delivery to customers (600 tons of raw products exported, ready to use (herbal teas, cosmetic condiments).
Long-term contracts with growers and pickers, quality processes, harvesting processes, training of pickers, nothing is left to chance. All certifications to ensure sustainable, organic production are monitored and updated. In the event of an accident (detection of pesticides on a crop), the crop is isolated from the flow, decommissioned and processed in separate buildings and machines to avoid contamination. The plant processing machines (cleaning - sorting) are developed and improved continuously by a Serbian company Euro Prima, and other Balkan industrialists. We attended the sorting of primroses, with manual finishing and the cleaning of camomile. (Dried with the stems and put in the machine). The result is impeccable. The flow of plants is totally controlled in order to save time and movement.
Drying and collection are the keys to success
The organisation of Agroproduct is based on the quality of the products, so it is decentralised unlike anything we have seen so far. 58 collection centres, the first stage of quality control of the fresh material, supply 5 drying centres, including the one in Istog which functions as the flagship and local drying centre. The 5 centres are spread throughout the country, the plants must not have time to ferment during transport, which must be as short as possible. The dryers are refrigerated chambers with permeable floors into which hot air (pellet heating) is injected.
The hot air will dehydrate the plants in 15-20 hours according to the plants, stored on 15-20 cm height. The quality becomes uniform for a type of plants, which are stored with their stems in bags of 100 liters while waiting for the pruning. the pruning is ensured in Istog, by a faithful team since years, their wages are of 20% higher than the market, a restaurant of company is offered, being part of the advantages in kind offered by the company Hygiene conditions are impeccable. The price paid to the producers is linked to the market price, it is determined annually by type of plants.
Quality control is a permanent process
During the visit to the installations, we came across the quality control documents stuck to the doors of the technical rooms. On a dryer, there are no less than 11 criteria for "tracing" the batches being dried, everything is numbered, dated, drying time etc...
Organic is certified for 95% of the plants. Agroproduct is always on the lookout for organic growers and requires a minimum distance of 1 to 2 kilometres between the medicinal plant plots and the surrounding conventional crops.
For the collection, also very complete documents, processes explained with photos on what to do or not. The company is advised by the most important botanical specialist in Kosovo, Fadil Millaku, doctor in biology and botany and professor.
The seeds are produced by the company, as well as the young plants, in order to guarantee a homogeneous quality of plants for internal and external production. This is the propagation greenhouse with its automatic misting machine which runs the length of the tunnel depending on the weather to ensure that the foliage is kept moist.
The family at the centre of the activity
The discussion with Fatbardha Avdijaj, daughter of the founder, in charge of public relations and quality control, and Arber Avdijaj, son of the founder, in charge of production, sales and problem solving, shows us that we are dealing with a highly competent company.
We have the same qualitative criteria, for example the stages of maturity of the blooms and a multitude of points that make the difference between a quality product sold at a high price in a demanding Northern Europe, and other markets that are not the concern of the company. The founder has taken a step back from the operational side of the business and entrusted it to the younger generation, who do not claim to be older than 30, and who are graduates in all areas related to the business. The company is present at major international trade fairs to build customer loyalty and meet new ones. To convince the new ones, there is only one technique, a 5-day training course throughout the Kosovar territory, with an open book, to demonstrate the care given to the products by the operational. No cult of personality, no gilding, the family is on the ground, the phones ring in all directions, they are available for us even though we were not announced. Great example of commitment!
Europe as a sponsor.
A lot of equipment is co-financed by different European institutions, private or public, and the investment is permanently controlled in the field. As with our blueberry producer friends, "Boronica" in Albanian, Caritas is very present in the field and ensures the control of investments which are rarely in cash and practically always in kind. (Machinery - seeds, young plants). The company also plays the European card by multiplying strategic partnerships; for example, transport is entrusted to a Serbian company and a Kosovar company.
An example for young Kosovars, many of whom are still thinking of leaving the country
A terrain, a climate, land, water in abundance, a workforce competitive at the European level, an automation of the cultivation processes comparable to the level of Northern Europe, a logistics process fully mastered, Agro Product should stimulate the young people who think that nothing goes in Kosovo and that the grass is greener elsewhere, in the North!