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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » July 4, 2014
Polska…tastes good!
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Years of Rapid Change
July 4, 2014   
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By Marek Sawicki, PhD, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development

May marked 10 years since Poland joined the EU. That momentous event was preceded by a string of crucial decisions made possible by the landmark parliamentary elections of June 4, 1989. Although the elections were only partially free, they were enough to allow Polish people to make their aspirations perfectly clear. Poland showed that a transition from communism could be a civilized process without bloodshed. The elections 25 years ago were the result of the agreement reached at the Round Table talks between the communist authorities and the pro-democracy opposition. Together, these events sparked changes across the former Eastern bloc, making the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany possible.

Today, we are living in totally different country than a quarter of a century ago. Poland has taken a giant leap forward and much has changed in Polish rural areas. Admittedly, the changes have taken sacrifices and tremendous effort, and certainly not everything has been done in the best possible way. Some processes have been very painful, but at the end of the day the advantages clearly outweigh the disadvantages.

Poland was the only country among the 10 that joined the EU 10 years ago whose agricultural sector was fragmented into small, private farms. That had made membership negotiations particularly difficult when it came to agriculture. Still, we managed to negotiate the best conditions possible at the time, even if those conditions failed to ensure equal opportunities for Polish farmers on the EU market. Nevertheless, Poland made the most of all the funds awarded to it in the run-up to accession as well as those that were already available as part of the EU Common Agricultural Policy.

A huge amount of work was done to adjust Polish regulations to EU law and establish institutions needed by the agricultural sector. A lot changed in sectors with close ties to agriculture. Food processing plants, meat plants and dairies in particular, changed beyond recognition. Modernization at such facilities went full steam ahead and now they rank among the most modern in Europe.

As Polish agriculture changed, so did farms in Poland. It was a natural, evolutionary process that led to the closing down of 700,000 of the smallest farms. The structure of what remained improved and specialty farms started to emerge. That is how, despite a smaller overall number of cattle, Poland has been able to produce more milk at more efficient dairy farms. Many farmers upgraded their equipment, buying state-of-the-art tractors, farming machines and other hardware for agricultural production. These changes were backed by new technology that found its way to specialty farms.

All these far-reaching changes gave a boost to agricultural production and enabled Polish food and agricultural exports to grow rapidly. These exports are now worth almost 20 billion euros, with a trade surplus of around 5.7 billion euros. Most of the exports go to the EU market, but Poland continues searching for new markets and ways to access them. We have been very active in this department in Asia, the Far East and the Middle East. Promotional campaigns are making the public abroad more aware of Polish food and, in addition to the EU, Polish products have proved popular with consumers in China, Vietnam, South Korea, Japan and Arab countries. This best exemplifies the changes that have been taking place in Polish agriculture.

I have no doubt that in the next phase of this process, Polish cuisine will become an international success. The rich culinary tradition of Poland, influenced by different cultures and cuisines, is yet to be discovered by connoisseurs of fine food, not least because of the growing interest in organic food and a backlash against fast food. Growing numbers of consumers enjoy traditional festive meals and want their food to be cooked slowly, so that all nutritional values are preserved. Polish cuisine has always been known for rich flavors enhanced by a generous use of herbs and painstaking preparation methods. We have preserved the tradition of making soups, which are highly popular in Poland. Soups are often underestimated as a meal, but their popularity has been on the rise for several years.

Summer is a good time for traveling. Every trip is an opportunity to try new, local dishes prepared on the spot and originating from that region. Poland boasts exquisite pierogi, in addition to delicious soups made from seasonal products, light in summer and heavier in winter. We also have tasty meat dishes, including fried, stewed and grilled meats, often served with a variety of groats and fresh salads.

I would like to strongly encourage everybody to explore the flavors of Poland and try traditional dishes. Look around for those and other traditional products, treat your palates to the delightful taste of Poland and discover Poland’s culinary heritage for yourself. Make sure to also enjoy picturesque landscapes by visiting Poland’s extensive network of rural tourism farms where delicious food is accompanied by traditional Polish hospitality.
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