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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » June 3, 2015
Polska…tastes good!
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Polish Food Exports Grow Despite Russian Embargo
June 3, 2015   
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By Marek Sawicki, PhD, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is working to educate Polish farmers about opportunities offered by the European Union’s Rural Development Program for 2014-2020. Other priorities for the ministry are looking for new export markets and pressing ahead with talks with farmer organizations and unions.

Virtually every other day a new group of farmers is being provided with training. They are clearly interested in the new opportunities stemming from the 15 measures included in the Rural Development Program 2014-2020. This high level of interest is very welcome because it means that 13.5 billion euros will be spent well and effectively. And this will make it possible to build solid foundations for the further development of Polish agriculture.

Evidence that Polish agriculture is developing includes the level of Polish agri-food product exports last year, as well as preliminary data for the first quarter.

I spoke about this during the recent Polish Food Export Forum in Warsaw. I pointed out that simple factors underlying the growth of Polish food exports are petering out, while we have yet to take full advantage of our greatest strength—quality, tasty produce. It is worth noting that agriculture is responsible for 13 percent of Poland’s total exports and is the third-largest sector of the Polish economy in terms of the exports it generates.

Efforts launched at the beginning of 2008 to search for new markets and promote Polish agri-food products abroad are producing results. Despite the Russian embargo, Poland exported 21.4 billion euros worth of agri-food products last year.

According to preliminary data, in the first quarter of this year Polish agri-food product exports grew by 5.5 percent over the same period last year. In my opinion, it is possible that in 2015 as a whole the total value of Polish agri-food product exports will reach 23 billion euros, perhaps even 25 billion euros. But for this to happen it is necessary to have up-to-date information on the expectations and needs of consumers.

While strong competition is very much needed on the domestic market, because it stimulates innovation and contributes to the growth of domestic consumption, on markets abroad Polish producers should not compete with one another. We need to come up with a common agenda in terms of what we offer internationally.

The Rural Development Program for 2014-2020, which facilitates the establishment of producer groups, organizations and associations, offers a chance for more dynamic expansion into new markets.

Only by speeding up consolidation processes can we become more competitive. We should be aware that we are only using 60 percent of our production capacity at the current level of technology. Let us remember that global demand for food is increasing all the time. Last year showed that Polish exporters were able to find new markets for their products after the Russian embargo, as demonstrated by a major increase in exports to markets outside Russia.

However, we cannot shy away from consolidation processes. This also applies to the dairy industry, which is already functioning without milk quotas. There is a difficult situation on this market. In my opinion, the European Commission should take action in response to price declines after the abolition of milk quotas. This year is the first year without the quotas and the market situation requires such a reaction from the European Commission.

For a year now we have been dealing with a crisis on international markets, including Europe, and that is why we should seek the best solutions together without waiting for decisions. I appealed for this during my special meeting with representatives from the dairy sector.

The dairy industry has made good use of the opportunities it has had during the last 25 years, especially the last 11 years. The sector has undergone a tremendous change, becoming one of the most modern dairy industries in the world. It has done a good job in recognizing the demand on the European market during this time and has secured a good market position.

When it comes to recent events, it is also necessary to mention the Try Fine Food Picnic, a major celebration of Polish food, which took place for the 12th time on the grounds of the Warsaw University of Life Sciences (SGGW). The event featured food presentations and the tasting of food products singled out for praise in the Try Fine Food program and those covered by national and EU quality systems. The event, open to all-comers, was held in a vast area in front of the university Rector’s Palace and was attended by more than 130 exhibitors with Try Fine Food products and many traditional, regional and organic products. Sector associations and institutions also showed their wares. The picnic also included culinary demonstrations, an exhibition of antique farm machinery, offers from rural tourism farms, and a mini zoo with farm animals. There was lots of entertainment and food-related games for children. The event also attracted diplomats, businessmen, politicians and the media.

More than 60 percent of consumers say they are positive about the Try Fine Food program and look for products with the Try Fine Food (PD¯) logo in the stores.

A new feature in this year’s picnic was the “My market” area that showcased local products submitted for the first “My Market, My Product” nationwide competition for best local products. This fitted in very well with the presentation of rural tourism opportunities. Rural farms offer excellent conditions for recreation and for learning about exquisite products and dishes, in addition to many other attractions. A major informational campaign has gotten under way to highlight recreation opportunities in the Polish countryside. Data shows that foreign tourists are increasingly eager to take advantage of these opportunities. I strongly encourage everyone to find out about these opportunities for themselves as the summer vacation season approaches.
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