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The Balkans are taking stock of the damage caused by this year's deadly summer
As rain falls and autumn approaches, countries across the Balkans are taking stock of the damage caused by this year's deadly summer, which was one of the hottest in recent history.

With temperatures often above 100 degrees Fahrenheit from mid-June until the beginning of September, the summer brought unprecedented drought to Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia, which are all highly dependent on agriculture.

The prices of flour, bread, meat and cooking oil have risen sharply, up to 50 percent, as an immediate consequence of diminished production due to the heat.

"Something should finally be done so we don't look into the skies that should bless our crops," said Ratko Marjanovic, 62, from Staro Mirijevo village on the outskirts of Belgrade. "That is what my grandfather did, but we live in the 21st century, don't we?"

Like many farmers in his village, who mainly grow vegetables to sell to capital Belgrade, Marjanovic is considering buying a sprinkler system for his fields. "It will cost several thousand euros, but it is nothing when I count what I lost due to the drought," he said.

The Serbian agriculture ministry has calculated the damage to crops from the drought at $494 million. Agricultural produce makes up almost 20 percent of exports from Serbia. Maize, grain and fruits -- particularly berries -- are export products that are in high demand.

"Our crop exports are rising 20 percent each year, making agriculture the healthiest part of the Serbian economy," agriculture minister Slobodan Milosavljevic said at a press conference. "We expect this year's exports to reach more than $1.5 billion."

But this is uncertain if the harvest is at least a quarter smaller than normal, as it is expected to be, particularly for maize, grain, sunflowers and soy.

Farmers say little was done to help them. In Serbia, as in neighboring Croatia, irrigation is discussed only after severe droughts, which have been occurring once every three to five years.

"Only 1.2 percent of 3.2 million hectares of arable land is being irrigated in Serbia," Branislav Gulan from the Serbian Chamber of Commerce said. "That is 15 times less than the average at the global level."

Gulan and other officials said unspecified funds from the recently introduced National Investment Plan and $47.8 million of available World Bank credit should be used to start irrigation projects in Serbia.

There is a similar need in neighboring Croatia, where crop losses due to drought are estimated to the extent of $260 million.

Roughly 100,000 farmers' families face huge losses, according to Croatian agriculture ministry statistics. The drought did not affect just the crops; it killed cattle and endangered fisheries. Many farmers had taken short-term credit to boost production, which failed.

"Both we and cattle will be hungry this autumn and winter," Franjo Odobasic, a farmer from the central town of Pozega told Croatian Radio Television. "The price of scarce maize has doubled in the past two months, and we no longer can afford to buy it."

Bosnia-Herzegovina is in a particularly odd situation. The country, divided into two entities, the Bosnian Serb Republic of Srpska and the Croat-Muslim Federation, has never stimulated agriculture production.

For both parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina it was easier to import 350,000 to 450,000 metric tons of grain and maize for local needs each year than to invest in production of the crops. According to statistics from the federal ministry of agriculture, local production covers only 10 percent of the needs of the population of 4 million.

Due to the complicated administrative structure, no common reserves were created, and the country now urgently needs imports.

Federal minister for agriculture Damir Ljubic told Sarajevo media that "there are no reserves to intervene in the market and prevent price hikes." He declined to say when urgent purchases will be made.

In the northern town Brcko, low reserves of grain and flour have led to a 50 percent hike in bread prices.

"But despite the fact that drought affected all, some have profited from it," said economist Natalija Bogdanov from Novi Sad University in northern Serbia.

"This mostly goes for monopolists -- those who still tend to control the market, when they buy at the lowest and sell at the highest price. We have still not come out of that circle, despite all the attempts to introduce real market economy," Bogdanov wrote on the Ekonomist weekly.
MGR Archive 23.9.2007
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Russia Rapan $ 700
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EU Prices Baldo €660
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