As the snow lies heavy over Kosovo's fields and hills, CARE's agriculture support teams are hard at work preparing for the spring planting. For Andrew Taylor, a 33-year-old agricultural project manager with CARE, this is the season for mapping out his work for the coming spring. Next month, fertilizer stocks should be ready to drop off to local farmers. By March, herbicide distribution can start in some areas. From there, farmers should be ready to plant in April.
Agriculture always has been a mainstay of the Kosovo economy, but when refugees started to return to their homes and farms in early June, they found a land devastated by war. Many homes had been totally or partially destroyed. Fields had been littered with land mines and unexploded ordnance.
Tractors and other farm machinery had been damaged, commandeered or used by fleeing refugees. Many of the crops, vegetable gardens, orchards and vineyards had been destroyed.
CARE had been working in Kosovo before the war and returned to the province a few days after the arrival of the NATO troops. To meet the immediate need, CARE provided food, shelter and medical assistance to thousands of families. However, for Kosovo to begin recovering from the trauma, rebuilding the agricultural sector has to be a major priority. This is native Australian Andrew Taylor's responsibility as one of a 20-member agriculture team based out of CARE's office in Ferizaj (Urosevec).
With the return of ethnic Albanians to their towns, villages and farms, labor is not a problem in most areas. But, nearly everything else is in short supply. Most farmers are keen to return to normal farming but they face many obstacles. Agricultural areas are depressed, trade remains at a low level and there is almost no agricultural capital available to farmers.
To help improve the situation and rehabilitate farms, CARE is distributing spare parts for tractors, not just an economic necessity but a fundamental part of the farming economy. Tractors are used in the fields, to take goods to market and take families to the nearest town. During the war, many spare parts were stolen or destroyed. With a $150,000 grant from CARE, Taylor has initiated a voucher system for spare parts between farmers and local suppliers. The result is that nearly 800 tractors are now operational again.
"It's a good system, and a very efficient use of the funds," says Taylor. "Some agencies have bought new tractors for farmers. But even with with $150,000 we could buy only a few tractors. This way we are supporting hundreds of farmers and kickstarting local economies in a big way." CARE also helps the poorest farmers by providing them with seeds and fertilizers to prepare for the next harvest.
Land mines are also a major problem for farmers. Hundreds of thousands of mines are planted in fields and grazing areas. "Demining is slow and expensive," says Taylor. "Some farmers get so frustrated that they try to do it themselves. The result has been more deaths and injuries. CARE has been looking for ways to speed up demining on farmland by bringing in specialists who use demining machinery and trained dogs."
There is also a great need for good vocational and agricultural education in Kosovo, according to Taylor, who is assessing ways in which CARE can help. "One way forward is to introduce a program to demonstrate improved agricultural systems, seed and crop varieties and techniques which can be copied and disseminated in other areas. But setting up new systems takes money and time."
Meanwhile, Serbian farming communities in Kosovo face special challenges. They are isolated, cut off from their former suppliers and often excluded from new marketing networks. They are finding it difficult to obtain even basic capital and goods, including fuel. As part of its agricultural rehabilitation programs, CARE will supply Serb farmers with seeds, fertilizer, fuel and spare parts for tractors to ensure that they can maintain their farms.
Rehabilitating the damaged land and economy is a massive task that will take several years. While all of these measures help, many additional factors that could support farmers lie outside the remit of CARE. For example, in pre-war Kosovo the agro-processing industries, such as flour mills and food processing factories, were firmly in the hands of the Yugoslav state and managed and operated by Serbs. Now they remain empty, sometimes damaged in war, but mainly because of legal and operational problems. They could play a vital role in rehabilitating the agricultural economy and stimulating trade but for the moment they are a burden rather than a support. In the longer-term, industrial development is needed to employ the extra people now living off the land and decrease the pressure on overcrowded farmland. This also will allow farming to become more efficient in order to meet the food needs of the whole population.