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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » March 3, 2014
Polska… tastes good!
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Farmers Benefit From 10 Years in EU
March 3, 2014   
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Funds that Poland has received since joining the EU 10 years ago have given a huge boost to agriculture and the food sector, with farmers and those living in rural areas benefiting the most from cash flowing from Brussels.

Polish farmers now agree with experts that European integration has brought many benefits to Polish agriculture. But 10 years ago, much of the Polish public, farmers among them, was afraid of what EU membership might mean for Poland. Many feared growing prices of produce, structural changes in agriculture, strong competition from farmers from other EU member states and costly changes that were necessary to adjust Poland’s agricultural and food sector to European standards. Many expected that European integration would force Poland to accept restrictive limitations on agricultural production.

It was a popular belief that cheap food would start pouring in from other countries in the EU, causing thousands of small and medium-sized agricultural and food businesses to go bankrupt and making life much harder for Polish farmers. Many feared that foreigners would start buying out real estate and land in Poland. Most farmers were also dissatisfied with the 10-year period that Poland endured preceding EU membership, because during that decade, the Polish market was open to food from the West, whereas exports of Polish produce were subject to limitations.

Poland’s first years as an EU member state dispelled most of the doubts and fears. In fact, in many areas the agricultural sector made substantial progress and Polish food became the driving force of Polish exports as a whole. At the same time, prices on the domestic market were not much different from long-term averages. Poland’s integration with the EU became a catalyst for social change in Polish villages and in the process, the public changed its attitude toward the EU and Poland’s EU membership.

The key benefits of European integration include the opening of the EU market to Poland, higher revenues for farmers, a stable agricultural policy and higher food production standards. To Polish food producers, open EU markets mean no more customs barriers on exports. Access to the EU market has massively boosted Polish exports—from around 4 billion euros in 2003 to almost 20 billion euros in 2013.

In the past, the most important sources of funds for agriculture, rural development and food processing in Poland were the 2004-2006 Rural Development Program and a Sector Operational Program called “The Restructuring and Modernization of the Food Sector and the Development of Rural Areas 2004 to 2006.” These have since been replaced with the 2007-2013 Rural Development Program, the largest such program so far with a budget of 70 billion. This provides funding for projects aimed at strengthening the competitiveness of farms and food processing plants. It has been helping create jobs in rural areas, encouraging environmentally friendly farming methods and preserving rural heritage and landscapes. By August 2013, Poland’s Agency for the Restructuring and Modernization of Agriculture had disbursed almost zl.65.2 billion as part of 2007-2013 Rural Development Program.

The program is divided into a number of measures, of which the most effective one is called “Modernization of Farms.” Data from the Agency for the Restructuring and Modernization of Agriculture shows that as part of this measure, almost 59,000 farmers across Poland have received support worth at least zl.8 billion as of August 2013. The amount has allowed farmers to invest a total of zl.14 billion in 34,000 tractors, over 222,000 farming machines and devices and more than 2,800 construction projects. The 2007-2013 Rural Development Program has also helped modernize hundreds of food processing plants and created around 37,000 new non-farming jobs in rural areas. Using these funds, people in villages have been able to open stores and restaurants and start companies that provide tourism, municipal, construction, accounting and IT services.

Funds from the 2007-2013 Rural Development Program have also been the prerequisite for Polish farmers producing prime quality food. Food processing companies have received over zl. 1.9 billion, allowing them to modernize and enlarge their facilities. Rural Development Program funds have also been spent on restoring agricultural production at hundreds of farms hit by ground frost, floods, hurricanes and other natural disasters.

One other highly efficient measure, according to the Agency for the Restructuring and Modernization of Agriculture, is “Rural Renovation and Development.” Under this measure, the agency has so far offered support totaling zl.1.95 billion to 5,000 projects, including hundreds of playgrounds, new and renovated dayrooms, dayroom furnishings, instruments and outfits for folk ensembles and renovation in village centers.

Life in rural areas is being made more comfortable thanks to projects supported by a measure called “Basic Services for the Rural Economy and Population.” By August 2013, funds disbursed as part of this measure had totaled zl.4.1 billion and were spent on new water pipelines, sewage systems, waste sorting programs, renewable energy and, more recently, modern market places.

Polish agriculture has been also gaining a lot from funds transferred to Poland within the Common Agricultural Policy. Such funds have been available since 2004 as direct payments and as part of EU assistance programs such as the Rural Development Program. The payments are funded under the so-called first pillar of the Common Agricultural Policy. Polish farmers have so far received 93 billion euros in direct payments and Poland has been the fastest among EU member states in terms of disbursing such payments.
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