In the recent weeks following the entry of NATO peace-keeping forces into the Kosovo Province of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Kosovo), the security situation has improved greatly and prompted the rapid return of the bulk of the Kosovar Albanians who had fled the country in the preceding 14 months. By late July, UNHCR reported that the total number of refugees who had returned to the Province since 15 June stood at about 700 000, over 90 percent of the total number of refugees reported at the height of the crisis in early June 1999.
In a Special Alert issued in April 1999, FAO already warned that even after the return of the population, owing to the disruption to normal agricultural activities and the vast scale of devastation to houses, farms and infrastructure, massive international assistance would continue to be needed in the short-term. The recent sequence of events has not only called for a rapid response of the international community to shift the geographical focus of the bulk of their activities to Kosovo, from the neighbouring countries, but has also increased the caseload of beneficiaries. Assistance is now also required for approximately 1 million IDPs who remained within the Province throughout the conflict but prior to the establishment of NATO peace-keeping forces could not be accessed.
In late June, FAO fielded a Mission to Kosovo to make a rapid assessment of the agricultural situation in the Province with a view to identifying the immediate emergency rehabilitation needs to the agriculture sector. At the same time, a joint FAO/WFP Mission carried out a rapid food security assessment.
With regard to the current 1998/99 cropping season, the latest information largely confirms the grim picture which was already expected by FAO last April. For wheat, the Province's most important food cereal, the area planted last autumn was sharply reduced due to insecurity and/or the basic lack of equipment and seeds. The overall reduction in area planted compared to the normal pre-war area of about 80 000 to 100 000 hectares is estimated at between 40 to 60 percent, although reductions of more than 60 percent have been recorded in some of the worst affected zones such as the Drenica triangle.
During the growing season, several factors combined to reduce the potential yield of the wheat crop. Many areas remained unattended in the spring of 1999, following the large exodus of the population, and thus received no spring maintenance such as weed or pest control. Furthermore, many crops were damaged by grazing of unattended livestock and/or the passage of armoured vehicles. By harvest time from late June, although many families were able to return to their farms, the lack of serviceable machinery and the insecurity of many areas due to mines and unexploded bombs are expected to make gathering the crop a challenging task this year, and post harvest losses could be expected to be larger than normal.
With much of the crop still not harvested, and the final effect of the adverse factors mentioned above still difficult to ascertain, FAO tentatively estimates the 1999 wheat harvest at about 100 000 tonnes, compared to the normal pre-war level of about 300 000. Assuming a population of 1.7 million 1/ in the coming year and an average per capita wheat consumption of 144 kg per year, the food requirement of wheat until the next harvest from late June 2000 is very tentatively estimated at about 245 000 tonnes. Therefore, even if all of the domestic crop is used for food purposes (normally some of the wheat crop is used for animal feed) the wheat deficit in 1999/2000 (July/June) is expected to be about 145 000 tonnes.
1/ This figure is based on pre-war census data adjusted to account for natural growth, out-migration, the number of Albanian Kosovar refugees not expected to return during the coming year, the humanitarian evacuation programme and the recent exodus of Serbs from the Province.
With regard to the spring crops of maize, vegetables, beans and potatoes, the 1999 production has been very sharply reduced since the mass displacement coincided with the planting season for these crops (March-April). Aerial observations and satellite image analysis, backed-up by field visits, indicated that only about 20 percent of the normal maize area had been planted, much of which was subsequently destroyed. Vegetable production at both the commercial and garden level was noted to be almost non-existent in many areas and very limited in others.
There has also been a widespread loss of livestock. Before leaving their villages during the exodus earlier this year, farmers freed their animals to run loose, and many were subsequently slaughtered by passing military and paramilitary forces. Tentative estimates put losses of larger ruminants at some 40 percent and those for small livestock at over 50 percent. Additionally, livestock inventories have been further diminished as many families who remained in the Province throughout the conflict have partly met their food needs by slaughtering their own livestock or by capturing free-roaming stock.
While aerial observations in late June indicated that there were still quite a number of free-roaming livestock, some returning families have been able to recover part of their herds. Many farmers quickly began to make hay on returning to their villages, and although the quality will likely be below normal, this will help towards supporting the remaining livestock, and thus also some important milk production, through the coming winter.
Although Kosovo has always been a deficit area in terms of agricultural food products, from the rapid assessments undertaken so far, it is already obvious that the ratio of domestic food production to consumption requirements in the coming year will be very much reduced compared to the pre-conflict situation, and thus the need for imported foodstuffs greatly increased. Moreover, with food stocks dating from before the conflict almost completely exhausted throughout the Province, movement of food into the Province must be rapid in the coming weeks.
Trade in food items of commercial origin is noted to have resumed remarkably quickly in the few weeks since the end of the conflict, and prices were surprisingly similar to those reported for 1997. However, greatly limited purchasing power among both the rural and urban populations means that only a fraction of total needs could be expected to be met through purchases in the coming year, especially as households are faced with many other essential non-food expenses. Preliminary FAO and WFP analyses indicate that in the worst affected rural areas where food production was severely reduced, food aid will be required to cover the bulk of the food needs until at least spring 2000.
The general high level of preparedness of the international community has meant that flows of food aid into the Province were also quick to start after the end of the conflict. WFP deliveries into Kosovo are now reported to be regular, with some 25-28 trucks of wheat flour alone arriving daily in late July. The Executive Director of WFP and the Director-General of FAO jointly approved, in late June, an Emergency Operation which aims at providing emergency food assistance to some 2.5 million refugees, internally-displaced and war-affected persons in the Balkan Region for a period of six months from July. However, in view of the rapidly evolving situation FAO, jointly with WFP, is planning a Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission to visit Kosovo in early August. The Mission will undertake an on-the-spot assessment of the food security situation as a basis for planning relief assistance.
With regard to rehabilitation of the agricultural sector, FAO has already established an Emergency Unit co-ordinating agricultural relief operations in Kosovo, and has launched an appeal for funds to assist Kosovo farmers to re-engage in farming activities as rapidly as possible. Taking into account the evolving situation and assistance already being provided, FAO is appealing for some US$22 million for the period July through December 1999. Funds are urgently needed for supply of essential agricultural inputs for the autumn planting season and maintenance and rebuilding of the agricultural machinery pool, amongst other related activities in support of the rapid rehabilitation of the agricultural sector.
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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