By Petrit Collaku
Serbia’s export ban has again highlighted Kosovo’s dependence on its neighbours for staple ingredients and the poor state of the country’s agriculture.
Bread prices rose by 30 per cent at the beginning of December 2010, followed by a second increase due to the increased price of wheat imports.
According to Kosovo’s ministry of agriculture, farmers produce some 250,000 tons of wheat annually, which covers only 30 per cent of the population’s needs, leaving the country heavily reliant on imports, particularly from Serbia.
Serbia banned wheat exports last week to ensure a steady supply to its internal market and maintain the price.
Luz Meti, owner of the popular Lumi bakery in Pristina, said his current reserves of wheat would last only two to three weeks.
“All bakeries are following the situation in the market and we will be forced to increase the price of bread if the wheat price goes up,” Meti told Balkan Insight.
Kosovo farmers are reluctant to expand cereal production, saying that growing wheat is uneconomical.
Milazim Berisha, one of the biggest wheat farmers in Kosovo, sowing around 150 hectares a year, has not increased his surface of wheat because he is already making a loss on the crop.
“Prices were under the cost of production last year and there is no benefit for us if we increase production,” Berisha told Balkan Insight.
He said government subsidies would not tempt him to plant more wheat, either. “The government has to remove the VAT on fuel and create an agricultural bank where we can take out loans at a low interest,” he said.
Tahir Tahiri, president of the Agricultural Federation Trade Union, blames seed traders for selling farmers low-quality wheat seed. “The inspectors should check what the traders are selling to farmers because this has huge impact on harvests,” Tahiri told Balkan Insight.
The government has allocated 3 million euros for farmers who have planted two or more extra hectares of wheat in 2010. Some 13,000 farmers are expected to receive the subsidy of 90 euros per hectare.