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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » June 29, 2015
Polska… tastes good!
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We Need to Improve Our Sales Skills
June 29, 2015   
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By Marek Sawicki, PhD Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development

Work continues on measures I mentioned in my previous column. Training is constantly being provided to farmers from different regions of Poland. I am particularly happy to see much interest in the mechanisms introduced by the 2014-2020 Rural Development Program and the EU’s new direct payments system.

When I meet with farmers, I make sure to tell them that it is up to us—with the effective use of all available funds—to ensure that agriculture develops further. I tell farmers that Poland has not been struck by any disaster, we do not need to rebuild and we are constantly growing. Over the past 11 years, Poland has increased its food production by 40 percent and turned from the net importer of food it was in 2004 into a major exporter that ships a third of its agricultural production abroad. All these facts speak for themselves, but we must not rest on our laurels. The global market presents us with opportunities, but also poses threats. For example, Polish pork is sold on foreign markets at average European prices, but things are worse when it comes to Polish dairy products and poultry meat. Even though Poland is Europe’s largest producer of poultry, we sell it 40 percent cheaper on average than others. As for the dairy sector, we sell our products around 30 percent cheaper, especially in north Africa. We know how to produce good food, the best food in the world. We now have to learn how to sell it well.

We produce food of top quality and we cannot afford to sell it cheaply, which I realized during my recent visit to China. This is a market that has around 300 million consumers on average incomes, by Chinese standards, who can afford to buy quality food. Such new, large markets need suitably large supplies of products, which means that both vertical and horizontal consolidation is necessary.

We can do this. We have channeled support available under the new EU budget to medium-sized farms, but there are also subsidies for producer groups, organizations and associations. A producer group can be awarded up to zl.3 million and an association up to 15 million. Importantly, such funds can be spent on food processing and on shares in already operating businesses. I believe farmers should co-own such businesses and have a say in their policies. This is how you strengthen your market position and get better prices.

In the meantime, I have been in talks with representatives of individual sectors, aiming to work out the best ways to strengthen exports of Polish agricultural and food products, especially to non-EU markets. I believe Poland can still achieve a lot in this department. Like I said earlier, we produce food of top quality, but we still need to learn how to sell it well.

Moving on to a topic that appears to be different, but is, in fact, related, there are challenges presented by water management in agriculture. We tend to forget that agriculture is the most weather-dependent sector of the economy. We are only reminded of this when extreme weather strikes, which is why I appreciate the importance of the academic conference that the Institute of Technology and Life Sciences in Falenty, south of Warsaw, held in mid-June.

Climate change is a global problem and every day farmers around the world have been struggling to irrigate their fields. This is also true of Poland, unfortunately. Polish farmers, especially those in northern Kujawy-Pomerania province, are starting to report that drought is hitting their fields. We should consider what we can do to rationally manage the water we have. I believe that instead of large projects, we should focus on small irrigation and water retention projects. Funds for these are available under the EU’s Rural Development Program and regional operational programs. The funds need to be combined. We need to devise a program to ensure rational water utilization in Poland. The program does not need cover the whole country for now, but should focus on regions where droughts are a recurring problem. The program has to focus on investment in small irrigation and water retention projects.

In 2011, funds assigned for the maintenance of irrigation equipment in the government’s special budget reserve were radically increased to zl.210 million. Part of that, including zl.6 million in 2011 and an annual amount of zl.16 million from 2012 to 2014, went to water engineering companies so they could maintain irrigation equipment. The 2015 budget also earmarks zl.210 million in reserve funds for this purpose, the same amount as from 2011 to 2014. That amount includes zl.16 million for water engineering companies. The total amount requested by province governors was zl.368 million, but like in previous years, it was not possible to meet all the needs.

While making efforts to ensure that agriculture develops, we must not forget to improve the irrigation of soils. This work has to be done systematically. We all need to be aware that our crops depend on appropriate maintenance of small irrigation and water retention facilities and equipment. Turbulent weather is becoming increasingly common. While this is something we cannot change, we can prepare for these changes rationally and at least alleviate the effects.
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