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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » September 30, 2015
Polska... tastes good!
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Battling Drought
September 30, 2015   
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By Marek Sawicki, PhD, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development

Drought continues to be the main problem facing Polish agriculture at the moment. The government has adopted a program to help farmers hit by the drought, but the program obviously cannot compensate for all the losses. I applied to the European Commission for a special aid program Aug. 14. Poland has been meeting its obligations to the EU and is perfectly entitled to expect the EU to show solidarity in a difficult situation like this. Extreme weather is becoming increasingly frequent and this year Central and Eastern Europe has suffered the most from it. The region has been most affected by the absence of rain coupled with very high temperatures. The scanty rainfall recently is only partial consolation, but it does allow some hope for moderately successful autumn sowing.

Legislation pertaining to crop and livestock insurance will without a doubt have to be changed, as only a universal insurance system can help deal with recurring disasters. While this applies to national systems, changes are also necessary at the EU level.

Climate change is easy to see and it is an increasingly burning issue that we cannot escape. Let me say this again: agriculture cannot be treated like any other branch of the economy, because it has always been heavily dependent on weather and it always will be. Appropriate technology, such as agricultural water management, will alleviate the consequences of bad weather, but it cannot solve all weather-related problems, especially when it comes to stability in farming practice. The insurance system has to be changed and so do the EU’s safety nets.

While assistance for drought-affected farmers is at the top of the agenda, we have been attending to other tasks as well. In the past 10 years, Poland has increased its agricultural production by 40 percent. In terms of value, a third of the output of Polish agriculture is exported as agricultural and food products. Polish food tastes great and is of high quality, which is why it has been increasingly popular with consumers in the EU and far beyond Europe. Polish food is exported to over 100 countries and with this in mind, we have identified priority markets on which to promote Poland’s agricultural and food sector. Aided by data from the Agricultural Market Agency (ARR), the Main Inspectorate of Plant Health and Seed Inspection and the Chief Veterinary Officer, we have chosen 13 non-European markets. The “lucky 13” are the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, India, Japan, China, Canada, Algeria, South Africa, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Vietnam and Iran. These are the countries we will focus on next year, but we are not closing the doors on other markets.

Meanwhile, the agricultural and food sector has coped well with the Russian embargo. Last year, Poland’s agricultural exports were worth almost 22 billion euros. In the first quarter of 2014, the rate at which exports grew rose 4.5 percent. The figure was 6.4 percent in the first quarter of this year, during which time sales totaled 11.2 billion euros. But the good news ends here. The Russian embargo has caused a decline in exports of dairy products, fruit and vegetables to markets in the EU. Poultry exports are 40 percent up on the whole, but when it comes to EU markets, they are 10 percent down. I believe what Poland needs to do is boost exports of highly processed foods.

We will also take part in key trade fairs, including SIAL Paris in Paris, ANUGA in Cologne and Alimentaria in Barcelona. Taking into account the growing demand for organic food, it also seems reasonable to promote Polish organic products at the BIOFACH fair in Nuremberg. This is Europe’s most important event to focus on organic farming, a sector that has been growing rapidly in Poland.

Promotional efforts adopted by the Agriculture Ministry will be financed using zl.5 million from the ministry itself and from the Agricultural Market Agency, in addition to zl.12 million from funds allocated for promotion and from enterprises.

Poland’s agricultural sector has very high potential that still has not been taken full advantage of. Poland also needs to learn to sell its food well to make the most of its growing reputation for top quality food.

Poland has quadrupled its exports since joining the EU and that is a very good result, but we need to bear in mind that the Netherlands, a country smaller than Poland, sells agricultural products and food worth 80 billion euros a year. This shows us what we should be aiming for. For that reason, I always say that we need to make sure that highly processed food accounts for a larger part of total agricultural and food exports than it does at present.
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