Prishtinë, 23 May 2016
With around 226 million euros invested in the field of agriculture, in the last five years the government did not manage to achieve its objectives related to the reduction of unemployment and the tangible economic growth. The investments in this field were made with no proper feasibility study and the money often went in wrong places. The agriculture sector in Kosovo does not fulfill the needs of its citizens with almost no agricultural produce. In some reports made by the Ministry of Agriculture related to some particular crops, it is apparent that despite the investments made during many years, Kosovo still imports many agricultural and farm produce. Only potatoes and plums satisfy almost 100 percent of the market demand in Kosovo. In other cases, based on the abovementioned reports as well as those from Kosovo Customs, there is a reduction of import in 2012 and 2013, while in 2014 - 2015 there is an increase of import in many articles such as meat, milk, dairy products, fruits and vegetables. There is a progressive reduction of import of wheat, while the import of flour is progressively increasing.
During the visits of Preportr team, the farmers complained that they are facing difficult conditions and they had no benefit from the Ministry of Agriculture because in most cases they were asked for bribe or to become militants of the party which runs the Ministry of Agriculture.
During its investigation, Preportr found modern stalls funded by the Ministry of Agriculture which were left empty. In those cases, the farmers either sold their livestock or just build the stall and never kept livestock. On the other hand, a considerable number of farmers have no place to keep their livestock. They are forced to keep it in improvised stalls, and in very poor conditions. The farmers applied for grants but their projects were turned down by the Ministry of Agriculture giving various justifications, while saying that no one every paid them a visit to see the real situation. Some of them have already sold their livestock, while others say that if they don’t receive assistance they will be forced to sell it as well.
The refusal by the Ministry of Agriculture implied costs for the farmers because they had to pay for the preparation of projects, since they have no proper skills to do such a thing. The preparation of a project eligible to apply for a grant cost them between 500 and 1000 euros, and there are farmers that submitted up to five project in the course of several years and never won a grant.
The majority of farmers are unjustly turned down without reviewing their projects because they failed to submit a certain document. Only in 2015 as much as 2100 farmers applied for a grant, and half of them were turned down due to lack of documentation. According to the guidelines for application, the officials of the Agency for Agricultural Development (AZHB) are obliged to not accept the application documents if they are not complete and they should inform the applicants about the additional documents they should submit in order for their application to be complete. Farmers complain about additional criteria set forth by Administrative Instructions of the Ministry of Agriculture, for which they are not informed on time.
They consider these criteria unjust and with the only aim to find excuses to turn down their applications. There are farmers with 30 to 40 years of experience in agriculture which are turned down as a result of failure to demonstrate their experience. There are farmers who had very good projects and the reason for the refusal was that the Ministry of Agriculture had no funds to support those projects. On the other hand, there are farmers who won two grants per year and there are also farmers who won grants in two consequent years. Preportr looked into all grants allocated by the Ministry of Agriculture for the 2010-2015 period and found that two people got two grants per year each, one in 2013 and another in 2014, while 54 people won two grants within three years.
The Auditor General also found that the Ministry of Agriculture “subsidized two NGOs, even though though those projects were not related to the production and processing of domestic agricultural and food produce. These NGOs submitted projects related to administration and finances.”
The abuse with grants is also confirmed by the Ministry of Agriculture. This ministry initiated criminal charges against some farmers.
The Ministry: Municipalities favored by the ministry
The Ministry of Agriculture did not make public the list of grant beneficiaries. The list of recipients of tractors and other agricultural equipment is not public. Preportr got this list from its sources attached it to the request for access to public documents and, after insisting, the Ministry sent the list of recipients of tractors only for 2013.
This list of tractors for which a lot of money was allocated shows that the public money though grants was distributed in Drenica region which is considered as a stronghold of Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK). Out of 39 beneficiaries from the list of recipients of tractors and other equipment for 2013, 11 are from Drenica (Skenderaj and Drenas). Rahovec, which has a potential for a substantial agricultural development, counts only one beneficiary, as is the case with Suhareka. Peja which also known as a region with developed agriculture has only one recipient of tractors and other equipment.
According to the data of the ministry, the allocation of grants was not fair for all municipalities. Among small municipalities, Skenderaj and Drenas benefited the most. These two municipalities benefited even more than the big municipalities such as Mitrovica, Peja, Ferizaj, Gjilan and Gjakova. The following table shows data for all municipalities.
Apart from the list of recipients of tractors, the Ministry also did not make public the collection points such as “ASK Foods”, “Kelmendi GmbH” and “Elkos” which in 2014 got about 3 million euros from the Ministry. The owner of one of those points, respectively “Elkos”, is Ramiz Kelmendi, the MP of PDK. Also, many farmers have declared that they won grants from the Ministry of Agriculture to build stalls and also received tractors and other equipment, but they are not on the lists made public by the Ministry of Agriculture.
In relation to all these findings, Preportr asked to conduct an interview with the minister of agriculture, Mr. Memli Krasniqi, and with the head of AZHB, Elhami Hajdari. The first request was made in April 18, 2016 and even after a month and a half of waiting they have not been keen to respond to this request.
The Ministry: Bribe as mediation to win grants
Agriculture, which is perceived by the government as a sector which generates employment and economic growth, was not supported by any strategy or plan when the government, donors and municipalities invested over 226 million euros. In spite of this big investment, Kosovo did not make any tangible progress in the field of agriculture.
In many cases the abuses are evident. In its fieldwork Preportr found several farmers who received assistance from the Ministry of Agriculture, and other who received no support whatsoever. In some cases, farmers who received assistance from the Ministry suspended their activity, closed down their farms without providing any accountability.
A stall built in the Municipality of Suhareka has been left empty. Its owner who did not want to identify himself said that he had built this stall partly with own money and partly with the help of the Ministry of Agriculture. The total investment in this modern stall was around 400,000 euros, according to the owner. It is very spacious, with optimal conditions to keep hundreds of dairy cows and calves. Attached to this space is a special room for milking, with a capacity to milk up to eight cows at a time and the milk is directly stored in a special reservoir. This stall has already been closed down and its owner has sold over 80 dairy cows.
“You cannot do business here; I have invested a lot, see what stall I’ve built, and I had to close it down. The contracting company often changed the prices, what can you do with 25-26 cents per liter of milk; that is even cheaper than a liter of water. There is no place in the world where you sign a contract with a company and, because of snow or due to other circumstances, they refuse to come and pick up the milk, so I often had to throw the milk or give it to my neighbors”, he said.
Some farmers say they were asked money in different ways as a condition to win the grant. They were afraid to disclose their identity due to potential vengeance of the Ministry of Agriculture.