Interview: Emiland, the owner of the first organic farm in country

Interview: Emiland, the owner of the first organic farm in country

At the latest event of Internations Tirana we had the chance to meet Emiland Skora, an Albanian businessman who has lived about 14 years in America and in 2011 decided to return in his homeland and start investing.

Currently Mr. Skora owns the Mediterranean Export-Import Albania Company, which exports sage essences and herbal oils to the United States market and also has established the first organic farm in Albania.

Sage has been used by people for thousand and thousand years, and in modern era has found use in pharmaceutics, cosmetics and many other fields. Albania is very rich in medicinal plants and the biggest exporter in Europe, as well. Emiland showed us how this business is currently going on in country.

As you may think, the first question that we should ask you is: Why Albania?

At first, I had the desire to invest in Albania since it is my homeland and everyone wants to contribute for the good of his people. Albania is one of the only places when you can invest in such business, since it has many plant species, the adequate Mediterranean climate, and unspoiled nature, very important factors that affect plants growth and germination.  We started it with few people but now my staff counts 20 full time employees and about 320 seasonal vacancies to harvest prairie sage at the time needed.

What kind of plants you use in creating essences?

The majority of products our company uses are plants which grow in Albania’s mountains in its highest peaks, as sage, savory, oregano, laurels and other medicinal plants. There are about more than 300 species of medicinal plants in this country.  This is the main reason I had the idea to invest in such industry at the beginning.

We gather sage plants in Theth village up to the southern city of the country, Saranda (which is a coastal city), but we transform them into essences, this is the product we sale. Sage that grows in northern Albania is the most high quality sage in the world. There is also a very unique plant which grows only in Albania, called helikrisi metalikum and is very wanted in cosmetics.

Was this the only reason you created the farm?

I decided to create an organic farm to grow medicinal plants in the most sustainable way it is possible where growth simulating chemicals are not allowed. Sage processing starts with gathering, drying process and its transformation into essences through distillery.

The farm I established is the first of such type in Albania and in few years we intend to make it the biggest organic farm in Balkan. The farm is intended as a social business. We rent lands which are not being used by their owners and seed sage, and we employee its owners in cases they didn’t have the opportunity to do such thing before.

There are also other organic farms in Kosovo, Macedonia and other regional countries with which I have set up collaboration, but we have planned to enhance farm’s surface by 10 hectares per year.

You are an export company, so how do you operate in gaining new clients?

I found it hard at the beginning in creating contacts with potential sellers and buyers, because sage market in USA is informal and all traders don’t want to lose clients, so they don’t give you information. After starting the business, I spent almost six months of intensive networking in trying to find the proper buyers for my products.

I want everything done in the right way so that people who use my products to be satisfied and buy again. I pay for the land usage in gathering sages about 10% or 20% more than the price because I need the highest quality of sage, which we transform it into sage essences. The essences are the last element in adding value to medicinal plants is used in many sectors.

Which is your main market?

Quality is very important because I have gained so many clients and started selling in the European markets only by my clients’ suggestions for my products. It initially started with American clients but nowadays I sell sage essences in Germany, Switzerland and France.

USA market of course, since 70% of it is supplied by the Albanian sage and other medicinal plants. There are about 20 or 30 companies currently operating in this sector in Albania, which supply the European market with sage plants.

Which has been your biggest difficulty you have faced during your business activity?

When you start a business, you start learning how the market works, and yes in 2013, I had a very big problem. In certain seasons, sage germination stops for a non predicted time. It came a time when this thing happened and we had nothing what we could do about it. So, the company tried to find new solutions to solve this problem and we came up with the idea to establish an organic farm, the first one of such kind in Albania.

Which is the easiest way for an American investor to start investing in Albania?

The easiest ways to invest in a country you don’t have information for or you haven’t lived before, is cooperating with local companies. In this way, you avoid bureaucracies when establishing the business for the first time, and many other difficulties investors randomly face.

I know so many foreign investors that have started investing in Albania as solopreneurs mainly in the sector of services, without having too much information. Some of them have succeeded and some others didn’t. But the positive thing I may say is that there are a lot of such foreign investors, still operating in Albania.

Which are the difficulties and positive sighs of investing here?

The main difficulty a foreign investor faces is language. You have to be in direct contacts with your employees and they should have the same vision as you have for the future of your company.

The most positive opportunity Albania offers is the cheap work force. I could not gain the same profits if my company was established in USA. The workforce is very cheap but it needs to be more trained, in some handicrafts such as mechanic or agriculture.

Interviewed by Alketa Halilaj, Editor in chief – Invest in Albania

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