29 April 1999

(Circulated only for countries where foodcrops or supply situation conditions give rise to concern)


The crisis in the Kosovo Province of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia has led to a large-scale migration of refugees to neighbouring countries, in particular Albania and The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (The FYR of Macedonia). By 27 April, UNHCR estimated that some 365 000 people had entered the former country and about 140 000 the latter. A massive international relief effort is underway to assist the refugees. For the inhabitants of the fragile agrarian economies in the areas bordering Kosovo, the direct and indirect impact of the Kosovo crisis and refugee influx is immense. There is an evident risk of food insecurity, especially among households that are hosting refugees.

Neither country could safely be considered food secure, even before the crisis. FAO data indicate that average annual per caput food consumption is below the European average by 24 percent and 27 percent in Albania and The FYR of Macedonia respectively. In Albania, which recorded a per caput GDP of US$650 in 1997, an estimated 30 percent of the rural population lives in poverty. Around 50 percent of the active labour force are engaged in agriculture. Economic growth rates have been positive but weak since 1996. Despite some evidence of a recovery in agricultural output since the sector reforms of 1991, the prevailing production technology is poorly developed and productivity is low. The country has been highly dependent on imported food aid during the 1990s.

Although in The FYR of Macedonia the per caput GDP recorded in 1997 was more than double that of neighbouring Albania, the disposable income of rural families tends to be limited and pockets of poverty exist, particularly in the less developed border areas. Household incomes have been affected by both the economic reforms and restricted trade to neighbouring countries. The agricultural sector has yet to recover fully from the restructuring of the state farm sector and output remains generally below the levels attained in the early 1990s. The country is a net importer of basic foods and feed.

In both countries, the mountainous border areas, which have borne the burden of the refugee influx, are poor and heavily dependent on small-scale agriculture. Although several refugee camps are already operational or being established with international assistance, a large number of the refugees are hosted with local families. The hosting of refugees, including the provision of both food and shelter, began well before the escalation of the crisis in March 1999 and has played a critical role in mitigating the immediate impact of the humanitarian crisis.

An FAO assessment mission to Albania from 7 to 14 April 1999 reported that local families are hosting Kosovar families with on average eight family members and using their own limited resources to meet part of the refugees' essential needs. Reports from The FYR of Macedonia suggest a similar story, although hosting is less widespread.

The situation is unsustainable. The resources of local host families in the affected areas are normally sufficient only for their own needs and are being strained by the additional burden of providing also for the essential needs of refugees in their care. Cash income is tight and the ability of host households to purchase adequate food to meet their needs and those of their guests is questionable. Some farm households have consumed their seed stocks. For farm households, cash is too tight to permit adequate purchases of agricultural inputs for the 1999 spring and autumn planting seasons - and credit availability is limited.

The alarming socio-economic implications of hosting should be seen in the context of several detrimental indirect consequences of the crisis.

First, insecurity in border areas, and some border closures, have stemmed the flows of informal cross-border trade. Before the crisis, petty trading with Kosovo Province provided an important source of income to people living in the border areas. Second, the influx of refugees has destabilised local markets. Although many of the refugees carried little cash and few tradable possessions, the demand for food has naturally increased. Localised food price hikes were reported, especially in Albania because of the relative isolation of the areas. Third, local casual labour markets are likely to be flooded by the new arrivals. The relief operations offer some limited opportunities for work, but this will not compensate for a sharp reduction in short-term cross-border work opportunities. The combined impact will aggravate already high levels of unemployment in both The FYR of Macedonia and Albania. This may prompt a rise in permanent (economic) out-migration from these areas and exacerbate social tensions.

All indications are that the host communities in both countries are exposed to food insecurity and there is a clear need for international assistance in the coming months. Activities are underway to identify and enumerate the host families to permit a detailed targeting of relief assistance. While, programmes are being planned by several agencies to provide the hosting families with food and medical items, provisions to ensure that agricultural production is maintained, and where possible increased, are also important for the future food security of the hosts and refugees in the affected areas.

For host families in the influx areas, there is a very urgent need for agricultural inputs for the spring planting campaign. Feed supplies are also needed: small stock, poultry and dairy farming are a critical part of the rural economies in both areas. Restricted border trade has disrupted feed flows, especially to The FYR of Macedonia. In the medium-term, there is need for support for autumn plantings (mostly wheat, the major cereal) around October.

Where possible, FAO has already taken action. In Albania, a project under the Technical Co-operation Programme has already been implemented for a total amount of US$ 400 000 for Emergency Supply of Essential Agricultural Inputs to Rural Families hosting Refugees from Kosovo. A similar project has been approved also for The FYR of Macedonia. Additionally, financing from the FAO's Telefood Special Fund has been approved for fertilizer distribution projects in both countries. Other project proposals for the immediate provision of fertilisers, animal feed and backyard poultry have been prepared but implementation will depend on voluntary contributions from governments and international organizations.

This report is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO Secretariat with information from official and unofficial sources. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact Mr. Abdur Rashid, Chief, ESCG, FAO, (Telex 610181 FAO I; Fax: 0039-06-5705-4495, E-Mail (INTERNET): GIEWS1@FAO.ORG) for further information if required.

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