Honorable Minister Klosi, Honorable Minister Peleshi,
Distinguished Panelists and Guests,
It is my special pleasure to participate in the launching event for the second call of the IPARD-like grants supported under the Environmental Services Project, funded by the Swedish Government, Global Environment Facility and the World Bank. It is especially a privilege to be here at the Agricultural University of Tirana. This is my first time visiting and I hope to come back again and engage with you on other topics.
The Environmental Services Project is supporting Albania’s efforts to strengthen governance and management of its natural resources through the undertaking of the national forest inventory, registration of municipal forest and pastures, preparation of municipal forest and pasture management plans and the establishment of a forest information system.
Forestry is an integral part of rural development and support for sustainable use of natural resources has become a key priority for the Government.
The Environmental Services Project is supporting individual farmers and Forest and Pasture Users’ Associations through the IPARD like forestry grants to implement sustainable land management practices and increase their monetary and non-monetary benefits. The IPARD like measure on Establishment and Protection of Forests, Pastures and Upland Rural Areas aims at restoring, preserving and enhancing upland ecosystems thereby improving the agriculture and forests that depend on them, whilst addressing the challenge of climate change.
One hundred and thirty seven applications were received in the first forestry grant call which demonstrates the high interest of beneficiaries as well as the importance of these investments in improving natural resources and livelihood of people that depend on the use of these resources in the most remote areas of Albania.
Over the last few months, I had the opportunity to visit two grant beneficiary Forest and Pasture Users’ Associations: one in Ulza in December 2017 and one in Petran in May 2018.
In Ulza the Forest and Pasture Users’ Association was implementing forestry thinning and cleaning 82 ha next to the reservoir and I was amazed by the commitment of members, both women and men, to finalize works on time and take care of their young oak forests. It was interesting to hear them talk about more opportunities for tourism development because of forest preservation.
In Petran, the Forest and Pasture Users’ Association had already completed their sub-project – improved 92 ha of pasture lands that will ensure their livestock use upland pastures and reduce grazing pressure in the nearby villages. Even there, the dedication of people to contribute more than what was foreseen in the sub-project in terms of intensity was remarkable.
We are here in this event today to launch the second call but also to take stock of lessons learned during the first call. It was not a painless process and it encountered delays. It took time for the applicants to get acquainted with the new procedures and to be trained to prepare good applications.
It also took time for the institutions designing and administering the measure - the Agency for Rural Development and Agriculture and Ministry of Tourism and Environment and its State Inspectorate of Forest and Environment – to finalize the evaluation of applications, conduct on-spot controls and authorize payments.
Today all 63 winning grant beneficiaries have completed the investments, 30 have been paid and 33 are having their payment requests being reviewed. It is very encouraging to hear that all investments have been properly implemented by Forest and Pasture Users’ Associations and farmers, people care for their lands and the future of their children.
Yes, it took time, but the capacity has increased, the beneficiaries are familiar with the project proposals to be prepared and the documentation required. The two institutions are working much better together and the partnership created between them has created a strong foundation for a successful second call and faster implementation. Despite the delays experienced, in each of the communities I visited, the people confirmed they would be willing to apply again for additional grants, demonstrating their commitment to their environment and the importance of these grants.
As with every new experience, time is needed to ensure proper evaluation and robust procedures so that the grant system is transparent and equal for all.
Finally allow me to invite FPUAs and farmers to apply for this second call and wish you all successful and swift implementation of the second round of IPARD-like forestry grants.