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Albania's youth take flight from the mountains

October 15, 2020

Young people are leaving Albania's Korab mountain range to find a better living elsewhere. But environmentalists are trying to protect the area's unique nature and way of life by encouraging them to stay. 

An older woman sits on her porch
Image: DW

Albania: Mountains and migration

Life in eastern Albania's Korab mountain range is simple and traditional. For generations, small farmers and their families here have reared sheep and sold milk for a living. The mountains are part of the European Green Belt, a 12,000 kilometer (7,456 miles) stretch of land along the former Iron Curtain that now provides a home for endangered wildlife.

But the region's beauty isn't enough to stop young people from seeking a secure living in Western Europe or in Albania's capital, Tirana. Now, mountain meadows where shepherds once brought livestock to graze are overgrown with brush and increase the likelihood of wildfires.

But not everyone here wants to leave. Gardener Zija Keshi, for instance, decided to stay and cultivate aronia berries — which are considered a superfood. That was five years ago. Recently, Keshi's berries earned German organic food certification.

Keshi's success shows that mountain dwellers can make a better living with new ideas, says Olsion Lama, a project manager at Albania's largest environmental NGO, PPNEA.

PPNEA (Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania) is trying to combat emigration by encouraging locals to grow alternative crops like the aronia berry. The NGO is also trying to promote tourism and is lobbying the government to better support farming.

The project is part of a cross-border initiative between Albania, Kosovo and North Macedonia to protect the biodiversity of the Sharr and Korab-Koritnik mountains.

A film by Holger Trzeczak