In Kosovo, milk is building stronger communities.
On September 27, 2004, Mercy Corps participated in the launch of a milk collection center in the village of Treboviq/Trebovic, fifty miles west of the capital, Pristina. The opening of the collection center marked the culmination of a project years in the making.
During the Balkan conflict of the late 1990s, thousands of families were displaced by ethnic tensions and violence, and fled their homes and villages. Since the war ended and Kosovo came under United Nations protection, many of those families are returning to their former homes.
Projects like the Treboviq/Trebovic milk collection center are facilitating those families' return and reintegration by providing much-needed household income.
The main economic activity in the area is animal production: cattle, sheep and goats. The population depends on animal products for income. They produce cheese from milk and then sell the leftover milk in plastic bottles at local markets.
However, in the hot summer months, milk that isn't sold early in the day often spoils or goes sour. The family is then left with no income for the day - and actually loses money, since they must pay for transportation to and from the market and for the right to sell at the market.
In order to ensure that local farmers could sell their milk in a timely manner and generate much-needed income for their families, Mercy Corps decided to build a milk collection center as part of its Multi Ethnic Return and Reintegration Program in Kosovo. The project got underway in March 2004, less than six months before the center actually opened.
Farmers now bring their leftover milk to the center, where they can sell it for a fair price. The center then measures the quality of the milk and hygienically stores it before selling it to larger dairies and stores.
In addition to providing returnee families with essential household income, the project is also helping to reverse negative agricultural trends in the area. Animal farming is declining in this region; the main reason is the lack of a marketing system for the milk farmers produce every day.
By creating linkages between local farmers and larger dairies and stores, the opening of the milk collection station will create new job opportunities and revitalize animal production in the region. During and after the conflict, the number of cows and other domestic animals decreased by approximately 50%. This drop has directly influenced the production levels and living standards of this region.
Mercy Corps believes that the living standard of local farmers will be improved through the sale of milk, and producers will begin to reinvest in agriculture and livestock in the region, resulting in economic growth and revitalization for the entire area.
The milk center is also helping support poor families in another way: the manager is providing 1.5 liters of milk per day to 20 vulnerable families in the area.
Mercy Corps launched the milk collection center with the help of the United States Mission to Kosovo. The U.S. Mission office in the capital, Pristina, provided $13,500 of funding for the project.
While tensions between returning Serbians, Montenegrans, Albanians and other ethnic groups continue to run high, Mercy Corps hopes that a brighter economic future will help speed up the process of reintegration and reconciliation for everyone.
Milk - it's doing families in Kosovo good.