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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » August 29, 2014
Polska…tastes good!
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By Marek Sawicki, PhD Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development
August 29, 2014   
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By Marek Sawicki, PhD Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development

This summer has not been an easy time for Polish farmers. Summer sees the hardest work in the fields and during harvest. This year farmers have had additional financial worries on their mind.

I have said many times in the past that no matter how hard a farmer works, just one hailstorm or a torrential downpour can ruin everything in seconds. The weather this year has been good on the whole, but global politics has gotten in the way.

After the EU imposed economic sanctions on the Russian Federation for its involvement in the turbulent events in eastern Ukraine, Russia’s first reaction was to target Polish fruit and vegetables by temporarily banning imports of some of these products. International politics has made its way into Polish orchards and vegetable fields. Polish fruit and vegetable farmers became the first victims of the strained relations between the EU and the Russian Federation. They are the ones most affected and that is not acceptable. The time has come for the EU to show solidarity rather that just make declarations of solidarity. The costs of the sanctions need to be distributed evenly. I have written letters to EU commissioners requesting them to start procedures to provide compensation for the losses incurred by Polish agriculture now that Polish produce has been withdrawn from the Russian market.

For many years, I have been painstakingly negotiating conditions for the access of Polish food products to different markets abroad. We have also been conducting an extensive promotional campaign on markets in Asia and Arab countries and we are constantly working on diversifying export markets for Polish agricultural and food products. Obviously, there are no immediate results of all these efforts, nor can there be. However, orchard owners and vegetable producers need assistance now. To this end, a notable grassroots initiative has recently emerged in Poland where ordinary people are using social media to encourage one another to eat more Polish apples. This is an interesting manifestation of present-day patriotism in Poland. I am confident campaigns like this could be extended to our European partners, whom I strongly encourage to eat delicious Polish apples. This way, Europeans can demonstrate how the Russian reprisals can be overcome by ordinary citizens, by half a billion consumers in the EU. At the same time, I feel sorry for Russian consumers who are fond of Polish apples and are now unable to buy them. Russia’s response to the European sanctions shows that we must all show a lot of solidarity, because the problems of one member state are a concern for the entire EU. Our estimates show that Polish fruit and vegetable producers could lose a total of 500 million euros. This might not be a shocking figure, but individual producers are sure to find themselves in a tough situation and that’s why we need to go the extra mile to at least partially compensate to them for their losses—losses they have sustained through no fault of their own.

We need to bear in mind that machines and other devices can wait for new buyers much longer than agricultural produce. An embargo on agricultural products hurts a lot more than one on industrial products and it ought to be approached differently.

The next main concern for the Agriculture Ministry that we have been working on is the situation on the pork market. A case of African Swine Fever (ASF) has been detected at a small farm near Poland’s border with Belarus, prompting Ukraine to again close its market to Polish pork exports. No such disruption has occurred in exports to EU member states and countries such as Vietnam. Poland’s biosecurity program has proved to be effective in practice, as all ASF cases detected so far have only occurred in one area close to the Belarusian border. The virus has not spread beyond this area.

The Agriculture Ministry has completed public consultations and other work pertaining to the new direct payments system. Our proposals have been submitted to the European Commission. This is the first time we have had a cohesive system comprising direct payments and support as part of the Rural Development Program. The program focuses primarily on support for active farmers. The two measures are expected to significantly increase the number of farms whose strong ties to the market afford them the economic independence to compete on the free market. At the same time, an incentives system should help further improve Poland’s agrarian structure and cause the average farm size to increase. Over the past decade, Polish farms have grown from an average of 7.5 hectares to slightly over 10 hectares in size.
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