The village of Videja is a rural community of 1,000 residents near the Dukagjini Valley, the heart of western Kosovo's agricultural lands. Kosovo Serbs, who for centuries have represented the vast majority of the population in Videje, are still recovering from the conflict of 1999 through continuous post-war refugee and internally displaced persons returns processes. They face high unemployment and few income-earning opportunities.
Farming and raising livestock are the main sources of income for all ethnic groups that live in Videje and its seven surrounding villages. These ethnic groups — Kosovo Albanians, Kosovo Serbs and Roma — live in relative harmony today and are eager to find ways for cooperation and common welfare, putting their past differences and conflicts aside.
An important element of Kosovo’s future stability and overall prosperity lies in the country’s ability to return and re-integrate internally displaced people and refugee populations to their native homes in a peaceful and sustainable fashion. Through Mercy Corps’ Kosovo Economic Support for Sustainable Returns (KESSR) program, we are facilitating these peaceful returns by partnering with municipal governments to provide household grants for items like greenhouses and agricultural equipment to help families return and re-establish themselves. To improve the economic environment for returns, the Videje community and municipal government presented a project to Mercy Corps to purchase tractor and tractor attachments for the community’s needs. With a 30 percent contribution from the community, Mercy Corps supplied the remaining necessary funds towards purchase of the tractor.
Nominated by his peers to lead this initiative, Nemanja Vulicevic — a 21-year-old Kosovo Serb returnee from Videje — is representing his fellow farmers to the municipality and leading activities under this project. Returned in 2005 from a refugee camp in Krusevac, Serbia, Nemanja — who lives together with his parents, brother, sister-in-law and their three young children — proudly shows the 400 working hours registered on the tractor’s meter.
“We had nothing without the tractor — the tractor does not care about nationality or religion,” Nemanja says.
Seven months after the program began, the economic benefits to the community are evident: more arable land planted, more corn harvested and more grass and alfalfa baled. The tractor has also provided chronically needed transport of products to local market or raw materials (including seeds, fertilizer and timber) to households.
“There are families that are planning to return and their land is already planted; when they return they will have wheat, corn and alfalfa to eat or trade,” Nemanja explains.
Perhaps more importantly — in addition to the economic benefits — the tractor provides a free-of-charge service to farmers for seven area villages, all of them of mixed ethnicity, all of which were formerly in conflict with one another. Now, more than 90 Albanian, Serb and Roma farmers all use the tractor to plow, harvest, bale, fertilize or transport, improving their farmlands and communities together.