Gështenja e Reçit
Reç is a village in Malësi e Madhe, Albania’s northernmost district. It lies at the foot of the hills on the eastern side of the valley of the Prroni i Thatë river, just inside the Shkreli Regional Nature Park. Humans introduced chestnuts (Castanea sativa) to Albania’s mountainous northern regions centuries ago; because the area is not suited for grain cultivation, chestnuts are an important food crop. The trees also provide timber. Chestnut agroforests are found at elevations up to 1,200 meters above sea level throughout this part of Albania. The mild microclimate and fertile soils of Reç have supported chestnut trees for at least 300 years, judging by the size of some of the trees. Chestnuts may have been brought here by ethnic Albanians migrating from Kraja, a region on the Montenegrin side of Lake Skadar that is known for its old chestnut groves. The forests around Reç are composed almost exclusively of chestnut and cover more than 450 hectares.
Each family in Reç owns and manages at least a dozen chestnut trees. While the collection of chestnuts is a family affair, storage and sales are managed by a cooperative that involves about 80 families in Reç, and others throughout the region. Most of the harvest is exported to Italy, Greece, and Serbia, and the rest is sold in local markets—indeed, Reç chestnuts are most famous in the area around Lake Skadar and elsewhere in Albania. In 2014, the chestnut harvest in Reç amounted to about 500 tonnes. Although the members of the cooperative are involved in other food production activities, about 70% of household income comes from the sale of chestnuts. The harvest takes place in September and October; locally, chestnuts are traditionally baked or roasted, but can also be used to make breads, cakes, and sweets (restaurants in the region have started using chestnuts in new and creative ways). Chestnut honey is an important local product as well.
Despite the success of the local cooperative and increased chestnut yields in recent years, the future of the local groves is far from certain: The forests are not as effectively managed now as they were under communism (which ended in the 1990s) and, lately, the trees have started suffering from attacks by insect larvae that consume the fruit. The only way to contain this problem is through heavy pruning and other interventions, which reduce productivity. The maintenance of the traditional chestnut agroforests is also at risk because rural populations are increasingly migrating to the cities.