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Polska... tastes good!
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Feeding the Planet
May 7, 2015   
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Expo world fairs are one-of-a-kind events that command the attention of producers as well as of entire countries and their citizens. The motto of this year’s Expo world fair in Milan is “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life,” and even though the Expo’s history is a long one, this is the first time the world fair is placing such a strong emphasis on food and agriculture. As it happens, the food and agriculture sector is one of Poland’s strongest assets.

After communism fell in Poland in 1989, the social and economic changes that followed made a world of difference to both this country and all of Central and Eastern Europe. Poland started to work its way from a socialist economy to a market economy. In 2004, Polish agriculture stood out among the countries that joined the EU that year. We were the only country in the former Eastern bloc to have a very large number of individual farms and to a large extent, the farms became the ones to carry the weight of the changes. Over a period, more than 700,000 farms disappeared; state-run farms were closed down. Poland’s decision to join the EU allowed the country to speed up modernization in rural areas. Pre-accession assistance and funds awarded to Poland as part of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy allowed many farmers and food processing businesses to start a number of modernization projects. The process was particularly fast in the meat and dairy industries, enabling Polish slaughterhouses, meat processing plants and dairies to earn a good reputation. Now, they are among the most modern facilities of this kind in the world. Those changes were, in fact, similar to what had happened in the “old” EU in the mid-1970s.

These two factors behind the rapid transformation were coupled with a new approach among Polish farmers to farmland. Polish agriculture used to be regarded as technologically backward. Admittedly, not enough was invested in the sector, but on the other hand, that resulted in a modest use of pesticides. Today, even though Polish soils are not necessarily the best, Poland has good conditions for sustainable agriculture to thrive. In fact, agriculture has for centuries helped protect the environment in a natural way. Like no other social and professional group, farmers realize that the future of their crops and their own future depends on the condition of the environment. Polish farmers are aware that they are just passing users of the environment, leasing it from those who will come after them; that they need to make sure the environment they hand over to future generations is fully productive, able to develop rapidly and sustainable.

Thanks to the three factors, Poland has been highly successful in the international trade of food and farm produce. Poland is the world’s top soft fruit producer and ranks among the biggest producers of apples and champignons. International consumers are also fond of delicious Polish cold meats. Produced at state-of-the-art facilities, the meats are prepared according to traditional, proven recipes. Visitors to Poland frequently say that Polish ham tastes like real ham, eggs taste like eggs, and nothing beats a loaf of fresh, crunchy Polish bread.

The organic segment of Poland’s agricultural market has been growing rapidly in recent years as well. Statistics show a rising number of organic farms and food processing plants, growing organic farmlands and better availability of organic foodstuffs. In 2013, Poland had 26,598 organic farms, 11 times the number in 2003. The volume of organic farmlands, as defined by regulations, increased elevenfold over the decade to 675,000 hectares, according to Eurostat, the EU’s statistics office. Eurostat data also shows that Poland ranked third in the EU in terms of the number of organic farms in 2012. The number of plants processing organic food has increased eighteen fold since 2003.

Despite its rapid growth, the agriculture sector does not harm the environment and Poland’s natural rural landscapes. This respect for natural beauty fosters rural tourism, which thrives in Poland. Farm stays and hotels with a local flavor allow tourists to explore scenic landscapes and relish in local cuisine. While Polish food has made a name for itself as such, regional Polish cuisine is yet to be discovered by the world at large. It is absolutely worth a try. Poland’s location at the intersection of historical east-west and north-south trade routes has led to a rich culinary heritage. The many cultures that have shaped Poland over the years are also reflected in Polish food. Polish noblemen and peasants all paid a great deal of attention to distinctive flavors and scents, leaving behind a magnificent culinary legacy. I am convinced during the Expo 2015 in Milan, visitors to the Polish pavilion will be able to share in some of those culinary delights. I hope many of them will feel encouraged to come and visit Poland to explore the country along with its many flavors. The European Commission has given the official protected designation of origin (PDO), protected geographical indication (PGI) and traditional specialities guaranteed (TSG) labels to a total of 37 Polish food products, while official Polish registers feature as many as 1,390 local delicacies. I strongly encourage you to find out for yourself that Poland Tastes Good, whether at the Expo 2015 Milan or in Poland.

Marek Sawicki, PhD
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development
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