Stories from Albania
Albania is one of the central countries of origin of cannabis in Europe. Even though cannabis cultivation is banned in Albania and the government is trying to curb it, the main cause of illegal cultivation remains: In the remote and poverty-stricken mountain regions, it is difficult to earn a decent living. The GPDPD spoke to residents of the Shkodra region in northern Albania in autumn 2019. The interview protocols provide an insight into a living situation that is characterized by isolation, unemployment and emigration.
"Pult could become a place where you live well."
Vilson Peshkoj, 29 years, administrative officer of the municipality Shkodra in charge of Shala, Shosh and Pult
Recorded on 22.11.2019
I like to remember my childhood in the mountains. Pult was my home until I was 11 years old. We spent a lot of time with my father in nature. We went fishing together and walked for hours from one mountain village to another. On the way we drank fresh water from the streams and although I was a child, the long walks didn't bother me because the air was so clean, and every meal tasted fantastic afterwards.
Our region is characterized by beautiful and untouched nature – with wild mountains, the crystal-clear river Kiri. It is known for its hospitality – the essence of Northern Albanian culture and tradition. We must learn to benefit from these qualities. I am committed to ensuring that people recognize the potential and understand how they can make sustainable use of it and thereby make a living. For me, sustainability means that development must come from the heart. Money should not be the only motive for change.
As an administrative officer, it is my job to offer the municipality’s services to the people in the administrative units of Shala, Shosh and Pult. I collect all the administrative request of the people from the village and pass them on to the relevant institution. Therefore, I am in close contact with the people in the village and learn a lot about their problems.
We urgently need a baseline study and concepts on how people in the region can generate revenue in line with their environment. In my opinion, there is a need for training in tourism and sustainable land use for our farmers: How can we produce organic products? How do you create an organic label under which you can market the products? Everyone cultivates organic agricultural products, but people know little about certification or how to work together in this field. I believe if we create knowledge here, Pult could become a place where you live well.
"We need to boost development and create employment so people can survive in Pult."
Toma Marku, 60 years, economist and administrator of Pult, Shala and Shkodra
Recorded on 22.11.2019
Four years ago, the mayor of the municipality of Shkodra, appointed me the administrator of Pult administrative unit. As part of my job, I talk to everyone – we are like one big family. I know the people's problems and try to help them as much as I can.
We are facing major challenges here. Before 1996, more than 3,000 people were living in Pult. It was lively, rich in culture and people came together for many events. Then came the great emigration to the cities and abroad. Today there are only 1,870 inhabitants. Especially, the young people leave because they have no prospects here. I have four children, one of them lives in the USA, another one in Italy – there is no future for them in Pult. Nevertheless, the region has great potential: The beauty of the landscape is unique, and it invites to expand the tourist infrastructure.
This area is home to one of the largest chestnut forests in northern Albania. The trees grow on an area of 2,000 hectares and are more than 200 years old. We have started a mini-project and train small farmers in how to remove the shell from the chestnuts. Peeled chestnuts sell better. The fact that the smallholders were involved in the development of the project from the outset and that they worked it out together with the forestry authority is a key success factor. In this way we were able to create employment.
We need to boost development in the region so that the people who still live here can survive and the young people who have left return and invest.
"We have neither a doctor nor paved roads."
Sokol Hili, 53 years, head of the village of Kiri
Recorded on 22.11.2019
I am the head of the village Kiri. I was elected in June 2019 by the representatives of the village. The municipality pays me 5000 Lek per month (40 EUR), but I have no health and social insurance. I am married and have five children, two of them live in Italy. I hope with all my heart that they will come back. But Kiri is poor and there is no employment. The inhabitants of Kiri are becoming fewer and fewer: in 1996 there were still 2000, today there are only 350.
My job is to get the voice of the community to the public institutions, and have their problems heard. In the perception of the villagers, however, I am responsible for all people's problems - from access to water, running the school to health issues. People call me day and night, especially when they are sick or injured. We have neither a doctor nor paved roads. We drive sick people with private means to the city where they can be cared for.
As head of the village I am also responsible for controlling illegal activities in the village and I have to report any findings of cannabis plants.