Starting over: FAO emergency programme helps Kosovar farmers rebuild their lives
Fidaim Rexhepi, a Kosovar Albanian farmer, describes his situation: "During the conflict I lost two houses, completely burnt, the old one and the new one, and three cows. Nothing was harvested this year; I planted wheat but all the animals were put in the field during the conflict and everything was eaten or destroyed; nothing was left."
Daniele Donati, FAO Emergency Coordinator for the Balkans, says, "The main problems Kosovar farmers face are shelter and access to land." Not only did Serbian forces carry out a systematic campaign to destroy rural homes and farms, they also laid thousands of land mines in fields throughout the countryside. Seventeen United Nations de-mining teams have begun the job of clearing the mines and destroying unexploded bombs. It is a slow and difficult process, one that UN officials estimate may take up to three years to complete.
One of the key items Kosovar farm families need to become self-sufficient again is seeds. FAO, in collaboration with seven non-governmental organizations, has already distributed 14 500 tonnes of winter wheat seeds - enough to plant an area of 70 000 hectares - to more than 70 000 farming families. Almost 9 000 tonnes of fertilizer have also been distributed. In the next few weeks, FAO will set up a laboratory in Pristina to control seed quality. By this time next year, FAO's emergency programme is expected to have cut in half the number of farmers in need, according to Donati.
The loss of livestock in Kosovo was also extremely high. A Special Report based on a FAO/World Food Programme crop and food assessment mission to Kosovo found that nearly half the cattle and almost three-quarters of the small stock and poultry were lost. To protect the remaining farm animals, FAO is preparing a comprehensive livestock vaccination campaign.
In addition, nearly half of the country's tractors were either stolen or destroyed during the conflict. The emergency programme will also concentrate on repairing the province's remaining tractors and other farm equipment.
Kosovar farmers are not the only ones who will benefit from the emergency programme. Families in Albania who hosted Kosovar refugees during the crisis had their limited resources strained to the limit and beyond. FAO is distributing seeds to these host families to ensure that they can carry on with their farm work without added hardships.
To date, US$6.7 million has been channeled into FAO's emergency project for Kosovo, with major funding coming from the United States, Sweden, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Finland. FAO is appealing for a further US$25 million to continue seed distribution to farmers in need, establish the seed quality-control laboratory and carry out the livestock vaccination campaign as well as the farm machinery repair programme.
4 November 1999