The sustainable use of Non-Timber Forest Products holds the potential to improve livelihoods of local communities in Prespa while contributing to the conservation of region’s rich and unique biodiversity. This is predicated on developing new resource use models that combine conservation with socio-economic priorities of the local people, as highlighted in the 2019 Assessment of Challenges and Opportunities Related to Non-Timber Forest Products in the Wider Prespa Area, endorsed by PONT. The Assessment recommended a systematic approach over an extended period of time with interventions targeting the whole value chain of selected products.
In line with these recommendations, in 2019 PONT awarded a grant to the Connecting Natural Values and People (CNVP) to help organize farmer and producer groups in Prespa, and increase their capacity for cultivation and marketing of Non-Timber Forest Products with a focus on the Prespa tea (Sideritis raeseri) – an endemic vascular plan traditionally collected in Galicica and Prespa National Parks. Through the grant, CNVP helped the existing, informal Rural Women of Prespa (RWoP) in North Macedonia establish themselves as a non-governmental organisation and pilot the cultivation of the Prespa tea with support from women of the Prespa Marketing Organization at Prespa National Park in Albania who have prior experience with both cultivation and marketing of the product.
In June 2021, PONT awarded a new, 3-year grant to CNVP’s offices in Albania and North Macedonia, and the RWoP as an implementing partner, to continue their important work in promoting sustainable rural development in Prespa.
In North Macedonia, the value chain approach will be applied to the endemic Prespa tea (Sideritis raeseri), from cultivation to marketing, and through integration with catering of traditional food marketed by the members of the RWoP. Rural women involved in cultivation of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants in the Albanian part of Prespa will be introduced to new mechanisation service delivery models, as well as organic plant nutrition and protection products.
Networking and cooperation will be supported through the grant to facilitate exchange of know-how and coordination of women producers from the Macedonian and the Albanian part of Prespa in promoting cultivation of Non-Timber Forest Products as a model of sustainable rural development in the Wider Prespa Area.
The multiplication of the results will be achieved by targeting the collectors of Non-Timber Forest Products in the wild and by making an economically sound case for shifting from collection in the wild to cultivation on the farm by value adding though processing and direct marketing.