Balkan drought highlights years of farm neglect

Mon Aug 20, 2012 1:49pm EDT
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By Daria Sito-Sucic

KALESIJA, Bosnia (Reuters) - As crops wilt and die in the Balkans, farmers struck down by a particularly harsh drought this year are ruing the region's failure to upgrade irrigation networks and invest in a long-term agricultural strategy.

Hot, dry weather in eastern and southern Europe has piled pressure on world grain markets already reeling from huge drought damage in the United States.

The toll in Bosnia, where surface soil temperatures in the south have hit 47 degrees Celsius (116 Fahrenheit), is estimated at almost $1 billion - a huge blow to a country where the farming sector accounts for 20 percent of employment and about 10 percent of economic output.

The cost to neighboring Serbia, where agriculture last year accounted for about 12 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), is around $2 billion, and up to $250 million in Croatia, where yields have also been halved.

"It's a disaster," said Zoltan Pinkert, a farmer in the fertile flatlands of Baranja in north-east Croatia. "Everything was top-notch, and then the drought came. We've had less than 10 percent of the rain compared to normal years, and the damage to corn crops is 100 percent."

The region is no stranger to drought and farmers usually get by until the next growing season.

But producers in Bosnia say things have not been so bad since the end of the country's 1992-95 war and are threatening to block major roads and border crossings from early September unless the government pays outstanding subsidies and acts to protect domestic production.

The future looks bleak. Cash-strapped governments in the region, all facing recession, say the money is not there to invest in modern farming methods.   Continued...