Blessed with a warm Mediterranean climate that colours its farmland with lush green hues, Albania has all the features of a leading agricultural realm. Migena Malo runs MIA, an organic grocery store in Tirana’s city centre whose crates of fresh fruits and vegetables put nature’s bounty on display for locals and tourists alike. Although organic, sustainable agriculture is on the rise in Albania, the sector remains largely unconquered. Migena, however, is about to change that.
An advisory project supported by the EBRD and the European Union’s Western Balkans Enterprise Development and Innovation Facility (WB EDIF) helped MIA implement organic food standards and strengthen its brand on the local market.
An authentic taste of Albania
It is a gastronomic truth that the best recipes come from one’s own garden. Migena certainly gives credence to this notion. Her organic store MIA, an acronym for ‘Made In Albania’, is a local gem that sources from local farmers tomatoes, aubergines and blueberries, as well as dairy and poultry products, all free of pesticides.
Migena’s produce is her source of pride, as she has vested all her efforts into building a unique brand, recognised for its adherence to industry standards and best practices.
Like her siblings, Migena spent time studying and living abroad. When she came back to Albania, she joined her family’s business, MIA, quickly assuming a leadership role and putting all her entrepreneurial energy behind driving the fledgling business forward.
“I knew that if we were going to deliver on our long-term goals, we had to open a physical location for our products,” says Migena. She strengthened the company’s online presence and opened a second store, located in the heart of Tirana.
When Migena noticed that MIA had started to incur waste because of the company’s commitment to fresh produce, she launched an in-house kitchen, recycling unsold fruit and vegetables into traditional meals offered during lunch hours.
“People miss homemade food in Albania…. Our kitchen is my way of bringing back the taste of local cuisine. The clients love it. They come to me and say, ‘This tastes just like home,’” she adds.
At the time, the market for organic food was in its infancy, and as demand grew, it became harder for Migena to ensure her suppliers met the requisite standards. She moved the production in-house and invested in her very first greenhouse and hiring more workers – primarily women – to support her new venture.
Harvesting the potential of Albania’s organic farming
To ensure she could continue to follow the appropriate rules and regulations governing organic production, Migena turned to the EBRD for assistance.
An advisory project financed jointly with the WB EDIF helped MIA prepare for and acquire the GLOBALG.A.P. (Global Good Agricultural Practices) certificate, a widely recognised standard in advanced food safety and sustainability. The benchmark will support marketing efforts and help the store attract more clients.
“We feel a real sense of duty and responsibility towards our clients,” says Migena. “As a team, we now understand what it means to produce organically and what sustainability standards we have to fulfil to deliver on that promise.”
Finding meaning in the little things
Migena sees the pandemic as a chance to step back and cherish the simple things in life, and MIA as the perfect setting in which to achieve this.
“One of our clients was prescribed a specific diet for health reasons and they found every item in our little store,” she says. “It is moments like these, when you see how your efforts have truly benefitted others, that you grasp the real meaning of your work and find the passion you need to get through tough days.”
Although Migena is currently focusing on strengthening the brand and solidifying her client base, she is also working on a five-year plan that envisages opening more shops across Albania, supporting the livelihood of local farmers dedicated to sustainability.