Giving Roma and Egyptians in Albania an economic boost

Roma community in Albania
Due to long-standing social exclusion and lack of access to basic services such as health and education, poor income and living conditions, the level of poverty in Roma and Egyptian communities in Albania is estimated to be three times higher than that of other parts of the population. Photo: UNDP in Albania

Firdes Tole, a divorced mother of three in the Roma community of Pogradec, in Albania, could barely make ends meet cultivating sage for 3 months a year as a seasonal worker at her neighbor’s farm. 

One day, Tole heard about a training on medicinal plant cultivation offered to the members of the Roma Community living in her neighborhood.  Part of a project funded by the European Union and implemented by the Ministry of Social Welfare and Youth in partnership with UNDP, the initiative supports the social inclusion of Roma and Egyptian communities by providing vocational trainings to increase their employability and strengthen artisan and entrepreneurship skills, especially for women and girls.

Highlights

  • The level of poverty in Roma and Egyptian communities in Albania is estimated to be three times higher than that of other segments of the population.
  • More than 100 Roma and Egyptian women were trained on medicinal plant cultivation to increase their employability and entrepreneurship skills.
  • Another 2500 families benefited from infrastructure interventions identified by their community forum such as kindergartens, roads, etc.
  • The 36-month project is funded by the European Union and implemented by UNDP to support the Government’s efforts toward Roma inclusion.

Tole was among the first to join the training. For a week, participants were trained on the techniques needed to cultivate, collect and dry medicinal plants. They also learned about starting up a business, and seeds were given to women who owned a piece of land to help them get started.

 “When I first heard about the training, I got really excited. I was cultivating sage to make a living, but I knew there were so many other things I needed to learn. Most importantly I learned how to manage my own business,” says Tole, who became an employer less than 6 months after the training. 

With the revenue from her first harvest, Tole purchased larger quantities of sage seeds and grew her production. Sage cultivation specialists were recruited by UNDP to support farmers throughout the process and assist them in timing their sales and marketing their product. Today Tole provides jobs to four other women.

“What makes this intervention unique is the involvement of women in business dominated and run by men,” says Luan Ahmetaj, Director of the Medicinal Plant Institute in Tirana, Albania. “This contributes in empowering those communities economically and helping them change their lifestyle”.

Tole was one among more than a hundred Roma and Egyptian women trained on medicinal plant cultivation. Today they are considered role models in their communities.

“Studies showed that cultivating sage plant is the most appropriate economic activity for Roma and Egyptians living in the area. Once you plant the seeds you can get a crop twice a year for almost 10 years in a row,” says Bujar Taho, UNDP Project Manager.

Albania has a huge potential for the medicinal plant industry. According to the US Department of Agriculture, 57% of the sage imports in the USA come from Albania.   In order to support the development of this industry, the Government has undertaken several initiatives such as a subvention scheme for farmers who cultivate medicinal plants.

Around 300 members of Roma and Egyptian communities in the regions of Berat, Korca and Vlora are now benefiting from the initiative, almost half of them women.

Another aspect of the initiative is to support infrastructure interventions as identified by Roma and Egyptian Community Councils such as kindergartens, road rehabilitations, etc. Around 2500 families have benefited from these interventions since the inception of the project in July 2012.

The project also supports the Government of Albania in its efforts to achieve the objectives set forth in the Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005 - 2015 while promoting respect for human rights and appreciation for cultural diversity, as prerequisites for the country’s EU accession.

“I never thought I could be my own boss and that one day I would not only manage to provide a decent living for my family, but also jobs to other women like me. I realize how important training can be. It can change your life, ” says Tole.

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