Agriculture - the alleviation of social problems requires more solid management

S.H. is the head of one Kosovar family whose main source of income comes from agricultural land. He lives in a village in the eastern part of Kosovo. Unlike thousands of Kosovar families that during the past months left Kosovo, S.H. has not even considered such an option. He states that as long as people will need ecological food, there will be no need for him to leave.

Nevertheless, agriculture is not an easy sector in Kosovo and being a farmer is quite hard, he says. According to him, the main reason for this is that the state, "although [it] is increasing the budgetary support for the development of agriculture, livestock, fruit cultivation etc., the results are small because of the lack of adequate policies". Real farmers are still struggling and coping as they can.

Another drawback in this sector is the fact that the state has not managed to establish health insurance for farmers, "although to do such a thing shouldn’t be so difficult. Farmers have had health insurance in the socialist system, but now this is not available anymore," he said. He recalls that the proof of payment of the health insurance was done through health booklet. Health insurance, continued S.H., would be a key factor in encouraging people that are living in rural areas of Kosovo to deal more seriously with agriculture, which is the sector with the greatest opportunity for economic development that would have a spillover effect alleviating a big array of social problems.

S.H. mainly deals with the cultivation of fruit and vegetables, which he distributes himself in Kosovo markets, particularly in Gjilan and Kamenica. From its activity he provides for his family of five and tuition of two children. However, asides from the lack of health insurance, S.H. notes that another major problem is the mismanagement of funds allocated from the Kosovo budget for agricultural development. He even thinks that, in most cases, those in charge of managing agricultural projects, be it at central or local level, engage in some sort of illicit activity or misuse of funds.

“I’ve continuously followed information about the funds that the Kosovo government, specifically the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), allocates for agricultural development, in all areas. However, despite the fact that I’ve always fulfilled all the criteria requested, and I can verify this with documents, I’ve never benefitted from any kind of material support in any year”, he said.

Such a things is also confirmed by his fellow, F.Xh., even though he holds a law degree, his only source of income, like S.H., comes from agriculture. “It’s more than certain, and even experts agree, that the only way to decrease unemployment in Kosovo is to increase the involvement of local residents in agriculture, as well as its support from the state. But unfortunately everything is blocked”, F.Xh. stated, while adding that neither him had received any support from the state.

He recalled the example of wheat, a crop which, as he says, the state has consistently supported. It was said that who had over one hectare planted would get support for seeds and fertilization, about 120 euros per hectare. However, according to him, this never happened. “I have the impression that the public money allotted each year from the state, more than helping farmers who live off of their land, is being used to support only those who practice agriculture as a hobby or as an additional source of income. Thus, it doesn’t go to those for whom agriculture is a primary source of income”, says F.Xh., appealing to the various committees at institutional level to be more present in the field, especially now, in the season of sowing, when plans for the sector need to be made.

On the other hand, considering that the Government in 2015 has set aside about 40 million euros for the development of agriculture, the need for a more serious and controlled management is apparent and would most probably lead to an alleviation of social problems at a national level. Moreover, now that thousands of Kosovar asylum seekers will be deported from Western countries, who will be left without a “backup homeland”, it will be likely that they will want to engage in some form of agricultural activity.

The budget for 2015 for grants and direct payments to agriculture is about 43 million euros, out of which 20 million euros for grants, while the remaining 23 million euros for payments. MAFRD, based on the measures for the program of agriculture and rural development, has promised to provide support and new agricultural crops, which were not supported in the past.

This year, MAFRD has provided subsidies for corn, wheat seeds, for corn, for sunflower, for dairy cows and buffalos, for sheep and goats, for milk of different categories, for poultry, for apiculture, for swine breeding, milk production, meat, broilers, egg, for agro-processing through investments in equipment, machinery for processing, storage and marketing of agricultural products, farm diversification, honey production, production of vegetables in open fields and greenhouses, production of potato, production of apple, pear, plum, cherry, strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, blueberry, viticulture and medical herbs etc.

Also, the ministry has promised to continue supporting the farmers in the modernization of their agricultural technology in projects for irrigation of agricultural lands. And given that agriculture remains a key sector for Kosovo that could serve to improve unemployment, the state should be better involved in it.

Emine Klaiqi
Pristina, March 2015