Albanians are currently paying the highest price for dairy products in the region, with demand increasing on a yearly basis while the number of livestock heads is rapidly declining, ringing alarm bells in the industry.
Currently, one litre of milk is selling for around 131 lek (€1,1), significantly higher than Kosovo (119 lek), Serbia (102 lek), and Montenegro (100 lek). The price is even lower in EU countries such as Hungary (79 lek) and Poland (72 lek), according to data from Numbeo.
Other dairy essentials such as yoghurt and cheese have also climbed in value significantly over the last six months.
Some of this increase can be attributed to increased raw material costs as Albanian farms import almost everything from abroad. Feed prices have increased by 50% this year alone, mainly due to grain and cereal shortages caused by the Russia and Ukrainian war.
Farmers that are not subsidised by the state have had to increase their selling price by some 30%, while factories have increased their costs at a similar rate.
But as Albanian farmers struggle, imports of dairy products from abroad have increased by 18% during the first five months of 2022. Over the last three years, this has increased by 27% overall, with a value of EUR 38.8 million.
This has mainly been driven by an increase in imported milk from Serbia, accounting for 25% of the increase.
But there is another issue aside from rising costs and competition with cheaper, foreign products. Livestock heads are rapidly decreasing. Many small holdings are being shut down as they become financially unviable, and matters such as emigration and internal migration to big cities is making the situation worse.
The number of cattle in 2020 was 362,583, a decrease of nearly 13% on the year before. Goats decreased by nearly 11 % as well.
This corresponds to the decrease in the amount of milk collected in 2020 which fell by nearly 15%.
Overall, data from INSTAT said there was a reduction of livestock heads totalling 20% in 2021, a number that is expected to increase in 2022.
Former Minister of Agriculture Edmond Panariti said that the high cost of milk is directly linked to the decrease in cows. He blamed a lack of financial support for farmers and high taxes for producers for exacerbating the problem.
On 6 June, the price of Albanian dairy products went up across the board and in all retail outlets. Some 55 items increased in price by between 10 and 50%, according to a product list from a large factory. It was the fourth organised price increase in 2022.