Balkans agriculture hit by unprecedented drought

By Jovan Matic (AFP)–Aug. 26, 2012


BELGRADE — An unprecedented drought in the Balkans has dealt a serious blow to agriculture, causing grave losses estimated at more than a billion euros in one of Europe’s poorest regions.

Temperatures over the past week in the southeastern European region have soared to more than 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), with no rains in most areas.

After being hammered by a particularly rough winter with plummeting temperatures and record snowfall, Bosnia is now sweltering through its hottest summer since records began 120 years ago.

Sead Jelec of the National Association of Farmers said the country’s agricultural losses are estimated at between 30 and 40 percent.

The “total value of agriculture production in Bosnia is around one billion euros ($1.25 billion). We can say that the losses would be around 300 million euros,” Jelec said.

The drought had especially hit corn crops, but also fruits and pastures.

Croatia’s national agricultural chamber estimated the losses for that country at more than 134 million euros, chamber chairman Matija Brlosic said.

Several regions have declared a state of emergency, including the eastern Slavonia area, Croatia’s main agricultural producing region, where the drought has ravaged fields and left sunflowers browned and withered on their stalks.

“Slavonia has literally been devastated. Cultures planted in spring are in a catastrophic state and the losses are estimated at between 60 and 100 percent,” Brlosic said.

Of around 1.5 million hectares (3.7 million acres) of farming land in Croatia, only 18,000 are covered with irrigation systems.

In Serbia, initial loss estimates are close to one billion euros, a government source said.

Particularly hard hit is the northern province of Vojvodina, nicknamed “Serbia’s granary,” with production estimated to top out at just 50 percent of normal.

More than one million hectares have been hit, mostly of corn, maize and soya, the agriculture ministry said, prompting the government to adopt a package with measures to assist farmers and their fields.

Serbia has seen its warmest summer since 1887, with temperatures passing 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) for more than 50 days, the national weather office has said.

As of Friday, more than 250 fires were blazing across the country, notably in the southwestern Zlatibor mountain region, a popular tourist destination.

The harvest in Kosovo was expected to be 20 percent smaller than normal, said Safet Gerxhaliu, Kosovo’s Chamber of Commerce chairman and similar losses are expected in Macedonia.

Kosovo imports almost half of its food needs, like neighbouring Montenegro, fears a spike in food prices because of the drought.

Dry skies have also led to a severe disruption in regional water supplies, with Serbia introducing restrictions in several towns, like in southwestern Cacak where customers have only five hours of running water a day.

The main rivers such as the Danube, the Sava and the Tisa, though running at low levels, remain open for navigation.