Thousands of hectares of agricultural land have been occupied in 30 years by constructions, but the state institutions still do not know how much area has been lost. The Ministry of Agriculture talks about 10,000 ha lost in the country, at a time when 400,000 constructions without permission were put into the legalization process after the law was changed in 2020. Experts think that the real lost area is 34,000 ha of agricultural land, with an average loss of more than 1000 ha per year.
Authors: Daniela Zisi, Roland Beqiraj and Klodian Zhivani
Fatmir Parmaku moved with his family from Dibra to the Kamze area of Tirana in 2004. When he came to Kamze, the area had very few buildings and the land was barren.
The 60-year-old was among the first to buy a piece of agricultural land from a user who had benefited from Law 7501 . The plot, for which the seller did not have a certificate of ownership, but only the act of use, was bought by Parmaku for 1500 lek m2.
“I bought the land with papers, but I don’t know if
it was land or agricultural land. I applied in 2006 for legalization and received the certificate 3 years ago. When I came here, there were only 3-4 houses”, he confesses.
Like Fatmiri, thousands of inhabitants from all over Albania exploited the agricultural lands, turning them into cities. Kamza is the typical case of how hundreds of hectares of agricultural land with high production yield were transformed within two decades into an urban area.
In 1946, one of the largest agricultural enterprises in Albania, “Red Star”, was established in Kamëz. This enterprise served for 45 consecutive years as the capital’s main supplier of agricultural and livestock products.
After the 90s, the productive lands of Kamza turned into coveted construction sites. As a result, agricultural lands disappeared completely and were replaced by thousands of informal constructions. If in 1992 Kamza had only 6,000 inhabitants, currently this municipality has about 150,000 inhabitants, who have built on former agricultural land.
Like Kamza, the areas around Tirana, once completely rural, have been transformed into residential areas, erasing agricultural lands from the map.
While agricultural lands have disappeared at a rapid pace, the responsible institutions, starting from the Ministry of Agriculture, INSTAT or even the Cadastre, have not been able to document the lost surfaces. In reality, agricultural lands no longer exist, but on the Cadastre records they still appear as such.
Referring to the data, the district of Tirana has officially lost 6 thousand hectares of agricultural land over the last three decades. This figure seems very small, if we take into account that only the company “Red Star” in Kamez in 1985 had an area of about 4500 ha. This data becomes even more incredible, if we take into consideration the wave of constructions that has involved this district, starting from Kamza, Bathorja, Paskuqani, Farka, Dajti, Kashari, Golemi, Bëxulla (Domje), as well as the Vorë Municipalities. , Kavaja and Rrogozhina.
The truncated data in this regard are also accepted by the institutions themselves, which declare that the lost,real area is greater than what they have in the statistics.
“The real area, occupied by constructions on agricultural land, is larger than the one recorded. If in 1991 the area of agricultural land in the region of Tirana was 58,822 ha, currently the land fund has been reduced to 52,806 ha, a figure that is being updated”, – explains in a written answer to INA MEDIA, the Council of Tirana District.
The numbers are a mess
After the 90s, like Tirana, almost all regions of Albania were affected by a dizzying flow of constructions. Durrës, the areas around Fier, Lushnja , Laçi, Lezha or sub-Shkodra, as well as Korça have grown significantly in lands that are considered among the most productive.
Even for Durrës, one of the districts hit massively by constructions on agricultural lands, the data is truncated. According to the Durrës District Council, it turns out that the area of agricultural land, occupied by private buildings, businesses and other objects, from 1991 onwards is about 905.5 ha. The former swamp of Durrës was transformed after the 90s into the largest informal neighborhood of the coastal city. With an area of 350 ha, with currently no vacant plots of land left.
Although only for Tirana region until 2015 near ALUIZNI, a total of 79,025 buildings were self-declared as illegal constructions, the Ministry of Agriculture officially says that around 10,000 hectares of agricultural land have been lost in the country.
“In 1991, the area of agricultural land was 697 thousand ha. Currently, it is 687 thousand ha, but this fund is currently subject to updates and clarification in a special way to make the reflection in the cadastral registers of informal constructions”, says the Ministry of Agriculture in a written response.
Contrary to what the official figures say, experts think that the area of land lost could be about 3.5 times higher. Sherif Lushaj, one of the best experts in the protection and administration of agricultural land, thinks that the state institutions have treated this great, national wealth with irresponsibility.
“The data of 2021 shows one
area of 678.6 thousand ha from 712 thousand ha in 1990, so
approximately 34 thousand ha less. Legalizations, informal urbanization, which extended to
a long time and the very rapid transformation of peri-urban areas, which have been land with capacity
high, productive”, says the expert.
Even the rector of the Agricultural University, Fatbardh Sallaku, admits that there is a significant difference between the official statistics, as they do not reflect the entire lost area.
“According to me, the area that has been lost is more than that, but even if we take it for granted that we have lost, according to the official statistics, it is not little. We have lost 500 ha every year”, explains Sallaku.
Another impasse, which holds hostage the inventory of the real state of the land in Albania, is the lack of a land census . It would help, not only to clarify the ownership situation and its status, but would also orient the policies for the development of agricultural land. Currently, the Cadastre operates with data from 1996, when USAID undertook such an initiative. Due to the lack of information at that time, the citizens did not show interest, causing the data to be overlapped, causing problems with borders or ownership.
“The initiative must be taken to make an inventory of agricultural land, even though this process requires funds. The lack of accurate data directly affects the design and implementation of policies for agriculture”, explains the rector of UBT, Sallaku, who adds that in the chaos created with the data that results in the Cadastre for the lands, the fragmentation of the land has also had a significant impact.
In addition to informal constructions, the fact that the laws and decisions on the legalization of constructions without permission have not provided for the declaration by the applicants of the type of land on which they have built has influenced the data.
“We do not separate constructions without a permit, whether they are on agricultural land or on land. The law did not provide for this division”, explains the former director of the State Cadastre Agency, Artan Lame.
Since the adoption of the last Law on Legalizations, about 400 thousand applications have been submitted nationwide to the Cadastre offices, of which about 230 thousand objects have been legalized. According to the assessment of the former head of Cadastre, 2/3 of legalized or pending constructions are in rural areas and 1/3 of them in urban areas.
“Out of the total legalized facilities during this period, 140 thousand facilities are in rural areas and about 40 thousand of them are constructions on agricultural land, which with a rough calculation have occupied about 1200 ha of agricultural land. When we talk about constructions without permission on agricultural land, we exclude already urbanized areas, such as Kamza, Paskuqani or other formerly informal areas in Shkodër and Durrës”, he says.
This legal vacuum has caused a lack of information, which is also confirmed by INSTAT, which says that there is no data, neither for the surface of agricultural land in 1992, nor for the surface occupied by unauthorized constructions.
“Regarding the area of agricultural land, occupied by illegal constructions, their number on agricultural land or the area of agricultural land turned into land during the last 30 years, we inform you that INSTAT does not have these data”, this institution states officially.
Local plans have destroyed agricultural land
The expansion of the yellow line according to the local plans of the municipalities also affected the loss of agricultural land.
The municipal councils, through hundreds of decisions in violation of the law, without regional studies and master plans, have approved the expansion of the construction boundary lines, extending them to the areas of agricultural land.
The expert Sheriff Lushaj holds the municipalities accountable for the decisions taken for planning and poor control over the territory they administered.
“The division of the territory into over 300 municipalities has had a bad effect, because, by planning each municipality on its own in its small territory, it did not take into account what was happening in the other municipality. I consider the decisions taken by the municipal council regarding constructions or permits to have been a reason for occupying the land”, he says.
Lezha is one of the areas that has been put under pressure, not only by constructions, but also by natural phenomena. The Lezhë District Council claims that in 1991 the area of agricultural land was 34,718 ha , of which 168 ha were lost as a result of natural phenomena, while there are no statistics on the area occupied by constructions.
Urban planning, which did not take into consideration the protection of agricultural land, the lack of local plans in some cases and the failure of institutions to implement the law in the district of Lezha, as in the whole country, are seen by experts as other factors that have brought reduction of available land surface for agricultural purposes.
“In many areas, development was and is unplanned and this has damaged the agricultural space. If planning policies and measures had been undertaken earlier and had been implemented since the 90s, we probably wouldn’t be in this situation we are in today”, says agricultural expert, professor at UBT, Albert Kopali.
The district of Shkodra is among the most affected by the phenomenon of constructions without permission on agricultural land, where of the 50,663 ha of agricultural land that it had in 1993, 30-35% of it turns out to have been lost.
In the village of Muriqan, where tobacco, wheat and corn were once planted, dozens of buildings have been built without permission, occupying the surface of the bread land. Besim Lini, one of the residents of this village, says that 23 years ago he moved from a deep area and built the house without permission.
“There used to be agricultural land here. I built the house in 2000 and at that time no one told us that we should not build”, he says, while adding that he is still waiting for legalization.
Even for the region of Shkodra, constructions without permission and the expansion of the yellow line have had a direct impact on the shrinking of the agricultural land surface. The Director of Land Protection and Administration in the Shkodër District Council, Gafurr Ternova, says that from the official figures, it seems as if Shkodra has lost some land, but the surface area damaged by the constructions is much larger.
The misuse of agricultural land has been extended, not only to private properties, but also to state properties, such as the case of the Center for the Transfer of Agricultural Technologies, Shkodër, whose surface is filled with objects without permission.
“Once the Maize and Rice Institute had 700 ha of land. Currently, on this surface it is difficult to find even 2 ha that do not have construction on the plot”, says the agricultural expert, Kosa Hajkola.
Despite curbing the phenomenon of construction without permission, the Shkodër District Council considers the use of agricultural land for construction purposes still a concern.
“Illegal constructions on agricultural land have decreased significantly, however construction is still a concern, even with permission, because it is damaging the main, vital resource that can no longer be recovered on agricultural land”, – says the response to the request for information of this institution.
As a result of wrong policies, Albania ranks among the countries with the smallest area of agricultural land per inhabitant. According to FAO data, Albania is deficient in this regard, with only 0.2 ha per capita.
The reduction of the surface due to illegal constructions, as well as natural phenomena, as well as the construction of public works have further affected the agricultural perspective of the country and the economy.
Chart of the loss of agricultural land surface by counties
As for the area lost as a result of natural phenomena, the Ministry of Agriculture clarifies that there are 115,000 ha that are considered at high risk of landslides due to broken terrain or damage to the ecosystem.
Many inspectorates, no protection
Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development
Law 9244 , dated 17.6.2004 “On the Protection of Agricultural Land”, updated with Law no. 69/2013 “On some changes and additions to law 9244, and law no. 131/2014 “On an amendment and addition to law 9244”, categorically prohibits construction activity on agricultural lands, except for cases where they are used for agriculture and livestock.
The most important link for the protection of agricultural land has been the inspectorates, but they have turned a blind eye to the flagrant acts of destruction of agricultural land by concreting.
“In Elbasan, the largest number of illegal constructions was found during the period 2000-2010. One of the reasons for the increase in the number of these constructions was the non-implementation of the law by the territory monitoring inspectors”, asserts the Elbasan District Council.
Unauthorized construction on agricultural land was not curbed, although this was a shared responsibility among several inspectorates, which operated over a 10-year period. With the new administrative division, the powers for the protection of agricultural land were removed from the district councils and transferred to the municipalities.
“Each institution, which depended on the Ministry of Agriculture, district councils and municipal or municipal councils, has its share of responsibility in this situation. For years, constructions without permission on farmland took on large proportions, wild and destructive development for farmland”, says the director of Agricultural Land Administration and Protection in the Shkodër District Council, Gafurr Ternova.
The same argument is supported by the former chairman of the Korçë District Council, Landi Gushi, according to whom the inspectorates set up for this purpose were formal and without effective power due to the nature of the law.
“The solution to this problem would have been to set up a special National Inspectorate for the protection of the land, and not to divide the responsibility into several inspectorates, which have formally existed”, explains Gushi.
Despite the weak and inefficient work in the protection of agricultural land, according to local leaders, the merger of inspectorates and other land protection structures in county councils since 2016 has reduced the state’s attention in terms of the protection that agricultural land should have.
Land protection has been part of the strategies for the development of agriculture, but it has remained on paper and few of them have been implemented, just as the legal framework that provides for penalties for offenders has remained unenforceable.
Flooded house in Shkodër
“The strategy for agriculture was part of the National Strategy for the Development of Agriculture, as well as part of the inter-institutional strategy. There were no shortcomings in policies, but there were problems in implementation, as long as it was not possible to protect the land”, says the expert, Sherif Lushaj.
Ky shkrim është pjesë e projektit që mbështetet financiarisht nga Zyra e Mardhënieve me Publikun e Ambasadës së SH.B.A. në Tiranë. Opinionet, gjetjet, konkluzionet dhe rekomandimet e shprehura janë te autor-it/ve dhe nuk përfaqesojnë domosdoshmërisht ato të Departamentit të Shtetit. / This article is part of a project that is financially supported by the Public Relations Office of the US Embassy in Tirana. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the Department of State.