GLOBAL INFORMATION AND EARLY WARNING SYSTEM ON FOOD AND AGRICULTURE 

SPECIAL ALERT NO. 291

Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro)

9 April 1999

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

KOSOVO CRISIS TO HAVE FAR-REACHING IMPLICATIONS FOR FUTURE FOOD SECURITY IN THE REGION

The crisis in the Kosovo Province of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia has led to the unprecedented mass exodus of refugees from the Province. A steady population displacement within the Province and to neighbouring countries began in March 1998 but escalated in late March 1999 due to a worsening security situation in the region. By 7 April, when all borders from Kosovo were closed, UNHCR reported that the total number of people who had left the Province since March 1998 stood at 621 000, about one-third of the estimated total population. UNHCR has been designated by the UN Secretary-General to coordinate the UN relief activities in the region.

In a Special Alert issued in March 1998, FAO had already warned of the future food security implications of the upsurge in violence in Kosovo in terms of population displacement and the impact on the food and agriculture in the region. Apart from the direct human consequence, the unrest since March 1998 has devastated the agricultural and food-processing industries in the Province, resulting in a severe reduction in food output, supplies and availability. 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.

Annual output of wheat, the staple food cereal in the Province, was about 300 000 tonnes before the serious conflicts began. In addition, about 200 000 tonnes of wheat were imported to meet requirements, mostly from other regions of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. 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.

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. Normally about 100 000 hectares of maize (mostly for animal feed), 10 000 hectares of secondary cereals (mostly for animal feed and brewing), 25 000 hectares of vegetables and 20 000 hectares of fodder crops are 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. Moreover, 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 response to the escalation of the crisis in recent weeks, the Executive Director of WFP and the Director-General of FAO jointly approved, in early April, an extension of the Emergency Operation (EMOP) which has already provided assistance to IDPs and refugees in the region from September 1998, to mobilize additional relief to the affected populations. However, without significant improvements in the security situation in Kosovo relief operations can only be directed at the refuguees 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 in the coming weeks, to allow the population to return to their homes, 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. 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.

Where possible, FAO has already taken action. In view of the rapidly evolving situation regarding the influx of refugees in Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and the needs that will arise to assist the refugees and the host families engaged in farming with agricultural inputs, FAO has fielded, in early April, a mission to these countries to identify the emergency agricultural rehabilitation assistance needed in the near future.

 

 

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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