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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » September 30, 2011
Polska... tastes good!
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Modernizing Polish Agriculture
September 30, 2011   
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With EU funds streaming in, Poland’s agriculture sector has grown into a modern and rapidly developing part of the economy.

According to Marek Sawicki, the minister of agriculture and rural development, agriculture has helped Poland weather the global financial crisis.

Speaking at the Polish Rural Areas and Agriculture 2011 conference—which focused on the effects of the EU Common Agricultural Policy in Poland and on the findings of the Polish Rural Areas and Agriculture survey as well as last year’s agricultural census—Sawicki described Poland’s agriculture as a modern and rapidly developing sector that is being modernized with EU funds.

“Agriculture is governed by economic laws just like the global economy as a whole,” Sawicki said. “We cannot provide a fair assessment of agriculture and keep it separate from the global crisis, but we can say with a sense of satisfaction that Poland has weathered the crisis in part owing to agriculture. For years, agriculture has generated a positive balance in foreign trade. Data from the Central Statistical Office shows that last year the balance reached 2.8 billion euros instead of the 2.6 billion we cited previously. Everything seems to indicate that rapidly growing exports will result in an even more positive balance this year. Agriculture accounts for 11 percent of Poland’s total exports and so it is clearly a remedy for economic problems. Exports have triggered the creation of around 120,000 jobs in Poland’s agriculture and food industry and these jobs are the source of income for many families in Poland. Polish rural areas are changing and the figures testify to that.”

The findings of the Polish Rural Areas and Agriculture survey and the Agricultural Census 2010 point to a number of factors that have stimulated the modernization of Poland’s agriculture and rural areas. These factors have included Poland’s entry into the EU combined with pre-accession adjustments, the introduction of Common Agricultural Policy mechanisms, growing consumer demand, climate change and a search for new sources of energy. The Agricultural Census has also shown that over the eight years since the previous census in 2002, the number of farms has fallen 25 percent and their structure has changed. The number of small farms 1-5 hectares in size has dropped 25 percent and there are 34 percent more large farms (over 50 ha). The size of the average farm has increased from 5.76 to 6.82 ha. According to the Central Statistical Office, a total of 2.3 million people were employed in the agriculture sector last year and 1.95 million of them worked exclusively on farms. The figures show that employment in agriculture has reached a stagnation point leading to low labor efficiency and, consequently, low revenues and low investment in farms. The most serious problem is that rural areas fail to offer the population, women in particular, new jobs outside the agriculture sector. As a result, residents in rural areas are forced to remain in agriculture, which effectively prevents the sector from structural changes.

The latest census indicates that the total area of farmland has shrunk by 1.3 million ha and so less land is designated for crops. Data from the Central Statistical Office shows that croplands total 15.5 million ha and farming is most efficient at large farms. Cattle breeding as a whole has grown 4 percent, but the number of milk cows has decreased. The number of pigs has fallen 18 percent and there are also fewer sheep, goats and rabbits. The Central Statistical Office has also found changes in the proportions of crops, with less cereals and potatoes and more industrial crops such as rapeseed and forage crops. Poland also has many more orchards now.

In a comment to the census findings, Sawicki said that animal breeding shrank in Poland after direct payments available as part of the Common Agricultural Policy ceased to depend on production volume. According to Sawicki, the next census in eight years is likely to show that farms will continue to grow in size and become more specialized. There will be more organic farms and ones producing milk and beef, whereas production of poultry and pork will remain at the present level.

Recent surveys indicate that most residents in rural areas are satisfied with their lives. A poll by the TNS OBOP polling center shows that nine in 10 respondents in rural areas are happy to live in villages instead of towns and cities and 47 percent are very happy about it. Eight in 10 respondents say they would not like to move to a city and every other respondent says they would be very reluctant to do so. The three main reasons why villagers are satisfied with living in the country are a sense of security, access to the water system and internet access, identified by 72, 77 and 60 percent respondents respectively. On the other hand, residents in rural areas usually complain about having no access to natural gas and sewage systems (49 and 42 percent), poor career prospects (41 percent), and limited access to culture and arts (40 percent).
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