AgroKoni has a production capacity of 10 million seedlings per year—the most productive in Albania.
July 6, 2015 - Agroweb.org the only informative portal on agriculture and environmental issues in Albania published the success story of AgroKoni, one of the biggest distribution centers and exporters of Albanian products. The firm, a long-term USAID beneficiary has become well-known in Albania for modern farming and entrepreneurial success. AgroKoni’s success story is now published on agroweb as a model of new promising innovative business.
He grew up the child of a landless farmer during Communism. But defying the odds, Ruzhdi Koni put his hands into the soil and seed by seed has managed to transform his life into a rags to riches success story. The passionate student from the Agriculture University of Tirana knew better than to idly spend every afternoon playing soccer with his buddies, and instead decided to play the business game and win.
What began as selling fruit from the family’s small garden to neighbors, has today, more than 20 years later, grown to a multi-million dollar business which sells fruit and vegetables throughout Albania and to neighboring countries.
With the support of USAID, Koni has expanding his company and operates as an input supplier, consolidator, wholesaler, and exporter of fresh fruits and vegetables. With an annual turnover of roughly US $1.5 million, a daily distribution of 20 tons of fresh fruits and vegetables to local markets, and exports to Kosovo, Serbia, Bulgaria, Montenegro, and Lithuania, AgroKoni has become one of the most recognized and largest companies in the country.
USAID Albania Director, Marcus Johnson (left) during a visit at the AgroKoni vegetable nursery. Right-Ruzhdi Koni,Owner
Writing his own success
Ruzhdi Koni is par excellence proof that success comes from hard work and dedication. Yet, there are several more factors which have contributed to his success. Two are evident in his story: innovation and the support for new, promising technologies.
Few agriculture businesses are as adept as Koni in thinking of innovative ways to make use of and get the maximum benefit from available resources, nor have they been as fortunate to have had the right assistance to implement them along the way. “Because of USAID, my business is way ahead in the market. I have had the possibility to adopt new technologies, link with farmers and producers groups, gain more exposure to market opportunities because of the better knowledge of market requirements in the EU and neighboring countries,” explains Koni.
Women working at the seedling production facility of AgroKoni in Maminas.
Now leading farmers from across the country are visiting AgroKoni to learn more about Koni’s pioneering practices. In 2012, Agrokoni, based on USAID advice, installed a special technology which uses leftover olive pits for fuel to heat his greenhouses. The new heating system turned out to save Koni considerable fuel costs, and now other greenhouse farmers are looking at his experience as a very promising, low-cost energy alternative.
“USAID has helped to establish this sustainable and very successful business model, and we are well-positioned to help other Albanian farmers by introducing them to new technologies, and new market opportunities,” says Marcus Johnson, USAID/Albania Director. “We want to promote new technologies like this in Albania’s agriculture sector and with USAID’s smart and targeted development assistance in this area; we hope to have a positive impact on the Albanian people.”
Alternative power and bumblebee pollination
The greenhouse sector is very important for the growth of Albania’s agriculture sector and it is experiencing an annual growth of between 8-12% per year. “One of our current projects is helping determine what model of greenhouses are best suited to Albania and we are analyzing variables such as cost, durability, and effectiveness of different models,” explained Johnson while touring AgroKoni’s vegetable nursery and warehouse, and its new seedling production line in Maminas.
The $1 million USD investment for 9,000 m² (approx.. 2 acres) of greenhouses—one of the largest in Albania—has the capacity to produce 10 million seedlings per year (in two seasons) and provides permanent jobs for 15-20 workers and more than 150 workers during peak seasons. The state-of-the-art greenhouses are all fully computerized with automatic controls of temperature, humidity, fertilizer, and water use. The main seedlings produced are for tomatoes, cucumbers, pepper, watermelons (both grafted and non-grafted) which are then distributed to thousands of greenhouses and open field farmers throughout Albania.
Koni is one of several tomato seedling producers who have contributed over the past two years in special “tomato variety trials” coordinated by USAID in two Albanian regions where they are testing yet another innovative technique—bumblebees pollination. Pollination through this method allows farmers to grow hormone-free fruits. “Bumblebees are excellent pollinators of tomatoes and they ensure a bigger crop, with larger tomato fruits,” says Koni.
In fact, it was not known until the late-1980’s that bumblebees are ideal pollinators of the tomato plant, but since then, commercial growers have started to use them in their glass houses or growing tunnels. Prior to the understanding that bumblebees pollinate tomatoes so efficiently, workers had to manually pollinate tomatoes using a special vibrating tool. This was labor intensive and costly. “The pollination by bumblebees enables a greater yield of tomatoes than hand pollination,” says the Executive Director of AAC Lushnja, Piro Rrapushi, who has been assisting AgroKoni with the expertise on this new technique, which is soon expected to be seen in more Albanian greenhouses. “We would certainly endorse the bumblebees’ technique, and together with AAC Lushnja, USAID will promote and encourage other farmers to use this technique which makes them more competitive in local and international markets,” said USAID Country Director, Marcus Johnson.
Perhaps as competitive as even Ruzhdi Koni—the landless farmer who began his business by selling fruits from his tiny garden, only to become a brand name in innovation in Albania’s agriculture sector. Ruzhdi had the passion and the intelligence to see opportunities where others would not and the right assistance to make it happen.