Wild herbs and botanicals are becoming a formalized industry in Kosovo, thanks to Uncle Sam. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is funding a project called Kosovo Business Support (KBS), which provides a range of services to small businesses and entrepreneurs in the region. It is being executed jointly by two organizations, Chemonics International and Winrock International.
The Balkans hosts a rich variety of medicinal herbs that grow wild in the mountains. Over 800 have been identified, and 70 have commercial potential. While local tea companies now utilize herbs, they must import the very materials that grew in their backyard, for lack of a domestic industry to gather and dry them. Additionally, they are paying stiff import duties.
To pull together an herb industry, KBS has brought in a string of experts in agribusiness, herb identification, cultivation, sustainable harvesting, production, and marketing. The project has helped to facilitate face-to-face meetings to help make supplier-buyer connections, publish compendiums of local herbs to serve as a guide to pickers, develop a database, suggest new crops, and partly finance a trip for a Kosovan entrepreneur to visit herb companies and growers in the U.S. Information on proper production, equipment, and quality has been gathered, groups of pickers have been identified, and the seeds of a trade association are being sown. Dried herbs, essential oils and extracts are some of the products planned.
There is tremendous potential for the botanical industry in Kosovo. Bilberry is one example, with huge demand and profit potential. But there is plenty of work ahead. Workers must be trained to pick the best quality herbs in an ethical, sustainable manner. Basic equipment and expertise is needed for QC, storage, drying, extraction, packaging, processing, and marketing. Facilities must be built, and it all requires funding.
In the long term, many herbs should be cultivated (as opposed to wild-crafted) for consistent quality and sustainability. Organic farming practices are unknown and not understood, and organic certification is feasible but years away. Once the domestic market is filled, an export market needs to be developed. That is a different game altogether, with strict regulations, tough competition, and heavy promotional requirements. But these are being addressed, and there is optimism that herbs will grow into a profitable and important industry for Kosovo.
There is one local product, however, that may not fly in other countries: Kosovo's favorite, oregano tea!