18 December 1998

HELP WILL

BE NEEDED

FOR YEARS

Farming in many of the

countries of former

Yugoslavia was devastated

in the fighting and is still in

urgent need of supplies of

equipment. Richard Smith,

a lecturer in agricultural

engineering at Askham

Bryan College, Yorks, helped

organise two aid trips to

Bosnia this year but reports

that more help is needed

THE Ljubinje valley, 80 miles south of Mostar, is surrounded by steep-sided limestone hills covered in scrub vegetation. The fertile clay loam mixed with chalk is totally dry; no river or artesian water is available and farmers rely on winter and spring rainfall to support a wide range of cropping.

Here, a community of 3500 people is struggling to regain the quality of life it had before the complex hostilities shook the former Yugo-slav states between 1991 and 1995.

Entering this isolated valley is like stepping back 30 years in time. Once famous for producing eating apples and cherries, subsistence-style strip farming and work on the state-owned orchards is now their way of life. Any grain produced is processed through a feed mill to support an intensive chicken unit which is operating at only 25% capacity.

Our journey into Serbian Bosnia came about as a result of becoming involved in a Christmas appeal on Radio York to send aid to the refugee camps at Capljina managed by the charity Nobodys Children. Previous visits to the town by field workers had resulted in a list of what they needed to re-establish a communal farming enterprise. The list, extending to three pages of A4 paper, became the reason for the initial visit to explore the feasibility of any assistance.

At Dubrovnik we were met by Richard Maxfield, the director of field operations for Nobodys Children, and driven northwards along the Dalmatian coast. Occasionally there was evidence of war damage in the form of burned houses, but most had been re-roofed and repaired.

Land-mine warnings

Turning inland towards the Bosnian border at Metkovic we saw a broad, fertile valley with dyke irrigation and strip farming. Passing a long line of lorries held up at the border, we drove through unchallenged and passed more and more signs of the civil war – ruined houses, destroyed bridges, damaged road surfaces and areas taped off with land mine warnings.

Where people were occupying houses and land, they had constructed polytunnels and cloches and were earning a living from intensive market gardening. We were told that up to three crops a year of peppers, tomatoes and lettuce could be achieved.

Arriving at the Tasovici refugee camp, we saw a school built with help from aid sent from York, a youth club with a volunteer child psychologist and the food stores where donations of aid were kept before distribution. Max and two co-workers from Ireland looked after 350 people on the camp and a further 200 living in shelled and damaged houses in the surrounding area.

At Ljubinje there were more damaged houses, piles of bottled water delivered by SFOR (the stabilisation forces) because the water supply was broken, tobacco leaves hanging on drying racks and a community living with a mixture of modern technology and 40-year-old vehicles and equipment. Here, through help from the local Red Cross workers, we met the plantation manager Gojko Lecic.

Crop spraying was taking place in ideal weather conditions using an IMT tractor and a very old orchard sprayer. The water was collected rain water pumped from a cistern in the yard. The tractor air-cleaner was gaping, the pick-up hitch T-bar broken and there was no pto guard at all. The only evidence of protective equipment was a dust mask worn by the tractor driver while a cocktail of chemicals was being blown through the rows of apple trees.

We were shown apple trees with the bark damaged by disease during the five years when chemicals were unavailable, trees that each should produce 40kg of apples this year and areas of proposed new plantings.

No lack of effort

There was no lack of effort. The trees were pruned, the ground tidy. The people were proud and inventive but they had no resources to purchase their needs, nor access to them. The company owned two more tractors and one more crop sprayer, all unusable. The workers were concerned about safety and protection from the use of chemicals.

An intensive two-hour meeting followed, during which attempts were made to focus on specific aid required to help this community. The main priorities were spares and repairs, protective clothing and stacking boxes to harvest this years crop successfully. Longer-term requirements are for hand tools to prune the trees, engineering tools and newer equipment to facilitate the replanting of new orchards.

The summer months of June, July and August were spent collecting useful aid items in preparation for a shipment to the Ljubinje valley. The transport left York in early September taking aid to Belgrade – this consisted of the following: chairs for the school, 70 stacking produce boxes donated by Safeway, two protective spray suits, gloves and face visor plus pto guards donated by Sewards Agriculture, a knapsack sprayer and plastic buckets. Inquiries about IMT tractor spares have been disappointing, as virtually all remaining spares for these machines have been thrown away for being "uneconomic to keep".

The continuing conflict in Kosovo will leave the Balkan states requiring our help for many years. We hope to fund future aid visits and rely on donations from individuals and companies. Anyone wanting to offer help should contact Richard Smith on 01904-772238 (tel) or 01904-772288 (fax).