First-year master’s degree student in Sustainable Agriculture and Economics Albulena Basha comes to ISU from Iowa’s Sister State, Kosovo. Albulena is one of the six students from Kosovo whose graduate education in the U.S. is funded by the Kosovo American Education Fund (KAEF) Fellowship, administered by the American Councils for International Education. This competitive fellowship has a stipulation that students must return to Kosovo upon their completion of master’s degree to help develop the country.
Albulena first learned about ISU when she took a short summer course in Kosovo with ISU professor Dr. Curtis Youngs. She says her choice to come to Ames was an easy one and was based not only on ISU’s world rankings for agricultural programs but also on the state’s and university’s connections with Kosovo. Albulena’s interest in developing the agricultural economy in Kosovo stems in part from her desire to stop her generation from leaving Kosovo due to high unemployment rate, lack of business opportunities, and corruption. Sixty-two percent of Kosovo’s population lives in rural areas and derives its primary source of income from agriculture. Agriculture, however, generates only 20% of Kosovo’s GDP, which indicates a major opportunity for economic growth. Albulena believes that agricultural development of Kosovo can occur if government policies are reformed to stimulate local production and reduce food imports (50.8% of the food consumed in 2016 was imported).
Abulena’s background compared with most ISU students is unusual. Kosovo went through ethnic cleansing in the late 1990s until it was stopped by the NATO bombing of Serbia. The U.S. helped Kosovo gain independence in 2008 and is providing help, both technical and financial, to the new country. As a result of international efforts to develop Kosovo, Albulena had an opportunity to study at Rochester Institute of Technology, Kosovo campus. After earning her bachelor’s degree, she worked at the Kosovo Ministry of Finance where she helped redesign property tax code, a project supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) . She also worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Transformational Leadership Program where she trained students in academic writing and TOEFL test preparation in efforts to better prepare them for academic studies in the U.S. It was her position with the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), however, that exposed her to the strong need to develop Kosovo’s agricultural sector. As part of her job with GIZ, Albulena directly interacted with farmers, focusing primarily on the youth that fled the country in 2014 in hopes of finding a better life in Western Europe but was denied asylum and forced to return back to Kosovo.
When Abulena finishes her degree and returns to Kosovo, she plans on starting an NGO to support local farmers, especially women farmers, and to collaborate with international organizations such as USAID, World Bank, and GIZ to promote sustainable agricultural development.