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Special Report: FAO Crop Assessment Mission to the Kosovo Province of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

Mission Highlights

  • Optimal weather conditions until mid-November assisted a rapid recovery by Kosovo’s cereal farmers.
  • FAO and NGOs distributed internationally donated wheat seeds and fertilizers for some 50 000 hectares. The total wheat area is estimated at about 79 000 hectares.
  • Uncontrolled heavy weed infestation last year, the use of more uncleaned home-grown seed than usual, and the possible reduction of field operations in autumn, reinforce the need for herbicides this spring to avoid yield loss.
  • Normal planting of maize and extensive planting of backyard vegetables is planned for early summer in all municipalities.
  • International support is needed throughout the spring and summer to ensure that the current promising momentum of recovery in the agriculture sector is maintained.


In August 1999, an FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission to the Kosovo Province of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia reported significant reduction in the Province’s agricultural output in 1999 due to civil unrest, which had been prevalent in some areas since March 1998 but escalated throughout most of the Province in the period between March to early June 1999. The Mission noted that the losses incurred would have both nutritional and economic consequences for the population who would remain heavily reliant on external assistance to meet basic food needs at least until the spring of 2000.

Reducing the dependence of the Kosovo population on food aid in 1999/2000 depends largely on the speed of recovery and rehabilitation in the agriculture sector. In June 1999 FAO established an Emergency Coordination Unit in Pristina to ensure that a coherent and technically sound agricultural assistance programme is implemented in Kosovo, through the coordination of the various partners involved in emergency agricultural relief operations. In addition, FAO initiated various project activities that address in a comprehensive manner the needs for assistance in the agricultural sector, including supply of fertilizer, wheat and vegetable seeds, fielding of agricultural experts, establishment of a seed quality control laboratory, repair of farm machinery and livestock vaccination.

In the autumn of 1999, a priority area of concern for FAO was assistance to the winter wheat seeding campaign. Wheat is the basic cereal staple of the Province and planning relief assistance in 2000 will depend greatly on the outcome of the wheat harvest from July. In this context, an FAO Crop Assessment Mission visited Kosovo from 5 to 13 January 2000, principally to assess the early prospects for the 2000 wheat harvest, but also to assess the general agricultural situation at the outset of 2000.

The Mission visited 21 of the 29 Municipalities in Kosovo. In 9 of the major cereal growing municipalities discussions were held with local agricultural experts. For a further 7 important cereal producing municipalities, information was obtained from interviews with key informants from NGOs responsible for the distribution of agricultural inputs, namely Action Against Hunger (AAH), World Vision International (WVI) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Assessment of the situation in the remaining 13 municipalities, which normally account for only 25 percent of the area planted to winter cereals, was based on data which has been collected by the FAO Emergency Unit in Pristina during the course of its operations since June 1999.

The Mission estimated that the area planted to winter wheat in 1999 is about 79 000 hectares the bulk of which, given the current level of security and internal stability, will be harvested in 2000. Yields are expected to vary according to seed source and the level of input use but on average will be lower than pre-1990 and similar to 1997/98 at 2.75 tonnes per hectare. Yields in Kosovo are noted to have decreased significantly in the early 1990s, because of a substantial reduction in fertilizer use. This estimate is based on the reported level of basal fertilizer use at sowing and expectations of somewhat limited access to fertilizers for top dressing in the spring. The Mission noted the potential for increased yields if good applications of nitrogenous fertilizers can be assured in the spring.

With regard to the primary feed cereal grown in Kosovo, maize, the Mission found that farmers intend to plant about 100 000 hectares this summer. Plans are already in hand to supply seeds and fertilizers for nearly 50 percent of the expected area to a targeted group of the most vulnerable farmers. It is expected that the remaining seeds and fertilizers will be purchased from local markets using marketing chains currently being re-established by local agricultural merchants.

Given the abundance of weeds in last year’s harvested and unharvested cereal crops, reduced cultivation practices where tractors were in short supply, and the lack of herbicide use in the autumn, weeds are expected to be a major problem this summer. Excessive weed competition would reduce yields even lower than those currently estimated by the Mission and international support for spring weed control on winter wheat and summer sown maize, through improved access to herbicides and spraying equipment, should be a priority for the coming months.


Given the level of security throughout Kosovo at the time of the Mission, the Mission was able to travel through 21 of the 29 municipalities. Discussions with key informants, including senior agriculturists in situ in 9 major grain producing municipalities and with NGO programme officers in Pristina, working in a further 7 important cereal producing municipalities, provided comprehensive data for 75 percent of the cereal producing area.

In general, the cereal sub-sector has undergone a rapid recovery in the past six months, due to farmer interest and ingenuity and what was, by-and-large, timely support from UN agencies and NGOs. There have been some exceptions of localized failures to meet input requests in full or provide all the services requested. However, overall, the international response has placed the cereal sub-sector in a good position for a near-normal harvest in 2000.

Although the Mission was able to contact the key informants interviewed during the earlier FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission in August 1999, which provided an element of continuity to the findings, it should be noted that information is still largely based on anecdotal evidence, informed comment and Mission observations, rather than cadastral surveys or farmer returns. Only in Pec were farmer returns mentioned, elsewhere, data were provided to local government and other interested parties by ex-officio agricultural ‘activists’ located in clusters of 3-5 villages. Such ‘activists’ have been providing information to the parallel administration in Kosovo for several years and are, therefore, accustomed to the task of reporting on agricultural conditions. Notwithstanding the commitment of this network, jointly, FAO and WFP are presently establishing a firmer base for data collection and analysis as an aid to continuing assessment of the food security situation in the coming months.

2.1 Factors affecting winter wheat planting

Weather conditions during the period of winter wheat field preparation and sowing were noted as normal to optimal throughout Kosovo. The September–October rains were plentiful and well distributed and the rainfall was accompanied by warm weather until mid-November. Higher than usual temperatures encouraged farmers to cultivate to the limits of their possibility and to sow winter wheat beyond the 25 October deadline, which is usually the latest optimal sowing date for winter wheat. Therefore, although seeds distributed by NGOs under the emergency programme coordinated by FAO were delivered somewhat later than ideal in at least 60 percent of the municipalities reviewed in detail, the prolonged warm spell suggests that there was an opportunity to use such seeds to good effect, as evidenced by reported germination rates. Given seeding rates, commonly ranging from 270 kg per hectare to 360 kg per hectare, depending on sowing method and date (heavier rates are normally used for hand-sown and/or late-sown crops), NGO-distributed seeds are not expected to have afforded the sowing of more than 50 000 hectares. Farmers, therefore, augmented the supplies of seeds with their own carry-over seeds from the 1999 harvest and seeds from neighbouring countries purchased from agricultural input suppliers. A detailed analysis of planting patterns of 100 farmers in Orahovac, conducted by the ICRC, shows that farmers' carry-over/purchased seeds accounted for 50 percent of the area sown. In Djakovica, Gjilane, Kamenica, Kosovo Polje, Lipljan, Pristina and Urosevac, the proportion is estimated to have been even higher. Elsewhere the proportion of carry-over/purchased seeds was much less. Overall, the Mission estimated that about 29 000 hectares of winter wheat was sown using carry-over/purchased seeds, putting the total winter wheat area at about 79 000 hectares. This is 36 percent more than the area planted in 1998/99 but about 10 percent less than in 1997/98. Insecurity around Serb villages and zones with mines or unexploded ordinance probably account for the bulk of the reduction in area.

Table 1 presents selected area, yield and production data for winter wheat by municipality for pre-1990 and 1997/98 to 1999/2000.

The prolonged sowing period allowed time for a) tractor sharing through mutual support systems, and b) significant NGO-assisted services and/or commercial contracting, depending on the degree of disturbance of normal working conditions last year. Charges for ploughing ranged from ‘fuel costs only’ in Pec where NGO tractors were also operating, to 150DM per hectare in Gjilane. Elsewhere, for instance in Djakovica, NGOs paid up to 200DM per hectare to contract farmers with tractors to plough for others, to ensure a good recovery in municipalities where agricultural land had been abandoned since the 1997/98 season.

Support programmes designed to rehabilitate tractors and machinery were noted to have increased tractor availability significantly in Djakovica, Gjilane, Istok, Lipljan, Podujevo and Vucitrn. Fuel and lubricant support from NATO KFOR forces was noted in Gjilane. Elsewhere fuel and lubricants were available for cash purchase and were not noted as a constraint on area cultivated.

2.2 Yield prospects for winter wheat

During the autumn of 1999, farmers were either provided with donations of inputs by NGOs and international agencies or purchased their own inputs for cash from local agricultural merchants. No credit or deferred payment terms were available. Consequently only farmers with access to cash had the opportunity to supplement NGO-distributed seeds with improved seeds. Therefore regarding those seeds which were not provided by NGOs, a greater proportion of farmers than usual are thought to have used their own carry-over seeds. Given the poor quality of last year’s harvest because of the absence of top dressing, lack of weed control and delayed harvesting, the potential production from some 15-20 percent of the area is expected to be lower than usual.

Similarly, farmers in Istok, Klina, Lipljan and Vucitrn were reported to have reduced field operations to a minimum of two passes, ploughing and discing with hand sowing, to lower input costs. This is also likely to reduce yields due to less than optimal plant populations.

More significantly, basal dressing of fertilizer at sowing time was much lower than standard practice. NGO-distributed supplies of NPK (15:15:15) accounted for less than 30 percent of the requirement of the total area sown. Further, of the 9 000 tonnes of top dressing (calcium ammonium nitrate) required for use on the area sown with NGO-distributed seeds alone, only 2 700 tonnes had been pledged by early January 2000. This leaves a shortfall of some 11 500 tonnes if the estimated area of 79 000 ha are to be top-dressed at a normal rate of 180 kg per hectare.

Lack of herbicide use in 1999 and the enforced fallowing of significant areas in some municipalities, resulted in heavy weed infestations of all arable land last year. Weed competition is, therefore, expected to be severe next summer and will significantly reduce yields and lower the quality of the harvest unless a comprehensive use of herbicides is encouraged and supported, through improved access to sprays and chemicals, following snow-melt in spring.

2.3 Early forecast of winter wheat output

Based on the above, the Mission forecasts the average yield of winter wheat this year at 2.75 tonnes per hectare. There is potential to increase yields if farmers’ access to nitrogenous fertilizers this spring is improved from current prospects. However, there is also a danger that yields could deteriorate even lower than those currently estimated if weed control measures are inadequate.

If the forecast yield materializes then, from the estimated area of 79 000 hectares, the 1999/2000 wheat output should amount to 217 000 tonnes. This would be 60 percent below the pre-1990 level and 80 percent of the estimated 1997/98 harvest, but double the estimated production last year. The Mission revised the 1998/99 wheat output to about 103 000 tonnes from about 113 000 tonnes forecast by the August Mission.


With regard to the final outcome of the 1999 maize harvest, which was still somewhat unclear at the time of the previous FAO/WFP Mission in August 1999, it is now estimated that about 48 000 tonnes of maize were harvested, mostly in Serb and Albanian Catholic villages, 9 000 tonnes below the forecast in August of 57 000 tonnes. However, it is unlikely that the maize obtained is available for general consumption, due to a collapse of commercial relationships between the Serb and Albanian farmers.

The Mission noted that autumn ploughing for summer-sown crops in 2000 had been carried out throughout Kosovo, but only in Djakovica, Gjilane, and Prizren have substantial proportions of the planned area been cultivated. Ploughing is expected to resume in spring throughout the Province.

Due to the destruction of industrial crop processing units in 1999, the Mission does not anticipate any spring/summer sowing of oil seeds or fiber crops. Summer planting of field crops, therefore, except for a limited area of malting barley, will consist solely of maize. Early indications suggest that farmers intend to plant about 100 000 hectares this summer. Plans are already in hand to supply seeds and fertilizers for nearly 50 percent of the expected area to a targeted group of the most vulnerable farmers. It is expected that the remaining seeds and fertilizers will be purchased from local markets using marketing chains currently being re-established by local agricultural merchants. Contracts for barley production, between farms and the Pec brewery are expected, but have not yet been issued.

Similar to the situation for industrial arable crops, the rehabilitation of large-scale vineyards is unlikely to occur until negotiations have been completed regarding the future of the destroyed wine factory. The absence of large-scale processing units may not preclude the re-establishment of backyard vineyards where home-based processing remains a possibility.

In Istok, Podujevo and Vucitrn, local agriculturists are planning comparatively large-scale potato production for separate programmes of 280 hectares, 1 000 hectares and 1 600 hectares respectively. However, success of the venture would depend on the provision of substantial international support for seed potatoes and fertilizers.

Backyard vegetable and fruit production is expected to be normal this year due to international support programmes for vegetable production and farmer interest in rehabilitation of orchards. It is envisaged that in some areas this may create local surpluses for sale.

Hay harvests were conducted last summer and autumn and hayricks were noted on all farms during field visits. The drawdown of hay from the ricks appears to be low, concomitant with reduced livestock numbers (see below). Most of the lucerne and red clover paddocks seen from the road, albeit under hoar frost conditions, appeared to be clean and in a good condition for spring regrowth.


The current situation with regard to livestock is somewhat unclear. In some areas earlier estimates last summer of large-scale losses of cattle are presently being adjusted as ‘straying’ animals are returned to their owners. Elsewhere, near the borders with other countries, herds are being reconstituted. However, very few animals were visible during Mission field visits through 21 municipalities. The slow rate of use of the on-farm hayricks would suggest few families have more than 1 or 2 cows.

Updated statistics on livestock numbers were not available from the network of key informants approached by the Mission. Requests for veterinary supplies are being prepared by FAO. Once finalized, such lists should help to clarify the numbers and distribution of livestock.

The above not withstanding, small ruminant numbers seem to have been most severely depleted. Further, uncontrolled mating in the summer has resulted in a lambing season that began in November and is likely to continue until February. Such a fragmented and unpredictable season from a severely reduced national flock may well be the final blow to the dairy sheep industry, which has been in rapid decline in recent years.

The State livestock farms, except for the fish farm in Istok, no longer exist. All stock has either been stolen or killed and the farm buildings damaged. As with the rest of the State agricultural sub-sector, no production is anticipated during 2000, neither is it clear to the Mission if, or how, any of the State farms are to be rehabilitated.