When Kosovar farmers and their families returned to their fields after the conflict ended in summer 1999, they were shocked by the devastation they found. Many people lost everything: their houses were demolished and their farm animals killed. The conflict reduced Kosovo's cattle population from 400,000 to 200,000.

"Before the war, I had three cows and there was enough for everybody to eat," says Gani Kadriu, a subsistence farmer who lives with his family of 12 in Likovic, in northern Kosovo, where heavy fighting took place. When he returned after the conflict, his house was damaged and his cows and chickens gone.

On a sunny afternoon in November 2000, a DC-8 airliner arrived in Pristina Airport carrying special freight: around 65 cattle, pregnant heifers from Austria and southern Germany. This was part of an FAO Emergency Farm Reconstruction Project, aimed at ensuring a minimum of income and food security for the households least able to recover from the war. Over 3 800 cows and 45 breeding bulls were flown into Kosovo to re-stock the provincial cattle herd and to help poor farmers like Gani Kadriu.

"The only way to bring poor farmers back to milk production was to give them a cow," says Andrew Friend, the project's livestock specialist. "These people have suffered dramatic losses, and none of them would have had the money to buy a cow."

Non-governmental organizations, such as Action Against Hunger and Mercy Corps International, selected 2 500 poor families, many of which were headed by women. Each family received a cow, while the breeding bulls were distributed to selected villages. In order to qualify for a cow, the families had to have experience in livestock production and access to at least one hectare of pasture for grazing. The farmers were trained in feeding and fodder conservation, and they were encouraged to breed the imported heifers. They got to keep the first-born calf, but were obliged to give the second-born calf to another needy family or village member.

With the financial support of Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and the World Bank, the project also addressed the rehabilitation of veterinary services, ensuring that the families received the help they needed to care for their animals. Veterinary kits including drugs and equipment for artificial insemination were distributed to private veterinarians on a cost recovery basis. In addition, a central veterinary laboratory was equipped for animal disease surveillance.

With each cow producing 3 500 litres of milk on average per year, local dairy production has resumed, and it will be even better in the future, as more than 50 percent of the cows have already had their second calves.

During the conflict, roughly half of all tractors were lost or damaged throughout Kosovo. With support from the FAO project, 2 414 tractors have been repaired and 182 new tractors distributed to plough land for 3 600 farming families.

Since the end of the conflict in July 1999, FAO has been the lead agency in the rehabilitation of the agricultural sector in Kosovo, with over US$40 million being channelled to more than 35 agricultural projects.