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The Warsaw Voice » Regional Voice » October 26, 2012
Polska… tastes good!
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The Case for Equal Treatment
October 26, 2012   
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By Stanisław Kalemba, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development

In my previous column, I outlined the areas which the Agriculture Ministry was working on and I also mentioned the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy after 2013.

The 2011/2012 agricultural year is now over. This year’s harvest was good, but in many cases it meant extremely high costs for farmers whose winter crops had been damaged by frost. Those farmers would not have been able to join in harvest festivals had they not attended to their fields promptly to plow them up and sow crops again.

Harvest festivals are barely over and farmers are out in fields again working their way through the new, 2012/2013 agricultural year. They will be working very hard as they always do, but the outcome of their efforts is a big unknown. Despite all the technical and technological advances, agriculture remains the most weather-dependent sector of the economy. Climate change and intensifying natural disasters of different kinds demonstrate the power of nature and remind us of just how helpless we are when confronted with such events.

These are mostly local phenomena and their local character shows that, rather than entire countries, they mainly affect individual regions. This makes us realize that farmers too should be given equal treatment when it comes to EU support in regions with identical soil and climate conditions. The reality is, however, that farmers are treated differently depending on whether they live in the “old” or the “new” EU countries.

Meanwhile, some of Poland’s farms have been thoroughly modernized over the past two decades. Polish farmers have been highly efficient in taking advantage of EU programs and they frequently outperform their counterparts in the “old” 15 EU countries, the Rural Development Program being a case in point. The same can be said of food processing businesses.

The outcome of all these efforts could be seen at the 28th Polagra Food International Trade Fair which was held in Poznań last October. It is worth noting that back in the 19th century, the Wielkopolska region, of which Poznań is the largest city, hosted one of the first agricultural fairs on Polish soil. The Polagra Food fair was accompanied by the Smaki Regionów (Regional Flavors) Fair. Poland boasts a long list of regional products, a legacy we can be proud of. The finest foods combined with original, regional recipes result in bread, cold meats, cheeses and confectionery that bring back memories of flavors from our childhood days. Nothing tastes better than regional specialties that used to be served in Polish homes many years ago. Exhibitors at the fair seek out traditional, natural products in the most remote and forgotten corners of Poland in order to protect them and then bring our culinary heritage to consumers in Poland and abroad. The fair showcases family traditions rooted in the culinary art of the early Republic of Poland. These, in my opinion, are the beautiful differences which a united Europe should be about these days. Equal EU funds should still be used to support the preservation of the best tradition of food production and the culinary heritage which stem from the rich European history.

Other Polish food products looked excellent in the company of many international products, boasting quality and flavors that made them popular abroad. Some of these products were awarded the Try Good Food label, which means that consumers can now enjoy a new range of products with consistently high quality, guaranteed characteristics and always identical flavor. All of these advantages help Polish food gain popularity on many markets around the world. Poland exports its confectionery products to 100 countries, fruit juices and poultry meat to 80 countries, cheese and cottage cheese to 75 and pork, frozen fruits and vegetables and processed meat to 70 countries. Polish beef is also gaining popularity; it is imported by 60 countries at present.

The good reputation Polish food has shows in figures concerning foreign trade in food and agricultural products. The data indicates that the first half of this year saw a continuing increase in the value of Polish exports as well as a growing trade surplus at over 7.8 billion and 1.4 billion euros respectively. This, in turn, shows that the results for the whole of this year could be better than last year.

What is also worth mentioning is that in terms of value, almost a quarter of our agricultural production is exported. Poland is the EU’s largest producer of apples and champignon mushrooms, the second largest producer of strawberries and potatoes, and the third largest of cereal crops, sugar beet and fruit in general.

The above examples demonstrate the stimulating effect which funds distributed equally as part of pillars one and two of the Common Agricultural Policy have on the development and competitiveness of agriculture. Much higher funds assigned to direct payments are no incentive for farmers to try modern and innovative solutions; this policy fails to stimulate development. As we work on the new Common Agricultural Policy, we should remember that it is our common goal to improve the competitiveness of European agriculture on global markets.
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