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Press Release 99/21

FAO WARNS KOSOVO CRISIS WILL HAVE FAR-REACHING IMPLICATIONS FOR THE REGION'S FUTURE FOOD SECURITY


Rome, 14 April -- The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in a Special Alert released today, warned that apart from the direct human consequence, the Kosovo crisis has devastated the agricultural and food-processing industries, resulting in a severe reduction in food output, supplies and food availability.

According to the Alert, "Thousands of farms have been destroyed, left abandoned or untended, whilst food distribution has been constrained due to difficulties in movement. Even in normal years, Kosovo is a food deficit area where output and productivity have been falling for several years due to conflict in the surrounding areas, difficult terrain, poor soils, which limit potential, and a significant decline in the use of essential farm inputs."

Faced with the escalating crisis, in early April the Executive Director of the World Food Programme and the Director-General of FAO jointly approved an extension of the Emergency Operation (EMOP) to mobilize additional relief to the affected populations. EMOP has been providing assistance to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and refugees in the region since September 1998.

"However," the Alert warns that, "without significant improvements in the security situation in Kosovo relief operations can only be directed at the refugees who have already fled the province. The food supply situation for IDPs and the remainder of the population is expected to deteriorate sharply and the crisis will have profound long-term food security implications."

Should the security situation improve enough to allow the population to return to their homes, FAO says massive international relief assistance would be necessary to ensure food supplies within the province until domestic agricultural production and commercial trade flows could be re-established.

But, FAO cautions that given "the vast scale of devastation to houses, farms, and infrastructure in Kosovo Province, these processes in themselves would require large scale international assistance, and probably for more than one season. There is urgent need for appropriate contingency planning."

According to the Alert, "The eruption of civil strife in the Province in early 1998 had a devastating affect on the outcome of the 1998 harvest. "Many wheat fields were not harvested or were burned, while a large proportion of the wheat that was collected has subsequently been destroyed when houses, stores and granaries, which have been especially targeted, were burned. It is now impossible to ascertain how much of the Province's 1998 harvest was secured, but it is likely that supplies were sharply reduced and will by now be virtually exhausted."

The Alert warns, "With regard to the current 1998/99 cropping season, prospects are grim. The wheat planting last autumn was largely missed due to the insecurity situation and/or the basic lack of equipment and seeds. A large amount of farming equipment of all types (from hand tools to tractors) has been looted or destroyed. The situation has deteriorated further for spring grain and vegetable planting."

The Alert estimates that about 100,000 hectares of maize, used mostly for animal feed, 10,000 hectares of secondary cereals for animal feed and brewing, 25,000 hectares of vegetables and 20,000 hectares of fodder crops are normally planted during March and April. It is likely that virtually none of this normal spring planting has been carried out and the output of all crops is expected to be very limited in 1999.

The Alert says annual output of wheat, the staple food cereal in the Province, was about 300,000 tons before the serious conflicts began. To meet the provinces food requirements, an additional 200,000 tons of wheat were imported, mostly from other regions of Yugoslavia.

"Moreover," the Alert says, "huge losses of livestock due to violence, disease and abandonment are also reported, exacerbating the problems of food supply for those who still remain in the province. The situation gives rise for great concern as many of the population were already dependent on relief aid in late 1998, while the intensified violence in recent weeks has brought to a halt all relief operations in the province."

In view of the rapid influx of refugees in Albania and Macedonia, FAO sent a mission to the area earlier this month to identify what emergency agricultural rehabilitation assistance will be needed in the near future.

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