Will the Polish government back small farmers and food sovereignty?
Described as ultra-conservative, rightwing and nationalist in the FT and committed to social welfare but ‘controversial’ by the BBC, the new Polish Law and Justice government has been criticised for measures taken to control the media.
Julian Rose sent a link to his article in the Ecologist this week which is summarised here. He is the author of the ‘proximity principle’ and spent decades of lobbying on behalf of small and medium sized farmers in the UK. He is now chairman of the International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside (ICPPC), founded in 2000.
Julian sends the news that since Poland’s new government was elected last October it has moved to protect the country’s 1.3 million small farmers. First it freed, without charge, those arrested for protesting corporate land grabs, blocking the Polish Land Agency’s attempt to sell off prime farmland to foreign speculators. Now it is seeking to lighten oppressive hygiene regulations, and may well support a new Food Act that would ban GMOs, and legislate for national food security and food sovereignty . . .
Julian records, “Recent governments since Poland joined the EU in 2004 have outlawed the sale of on-farm processed foods unless farmers establish their operations as a separate business and in separate hygienically sanitised buildings. That’s completely unaffordable to the great majority of small farmers whose holdings typically range from between 3 and 10 hectares”.
He explains that the ICPPC has been campaigning to give the country’s 1.3 million small family farms the freedom to produce foods without needless, burdensome regulations, and to sell their produce locally. They are working with farmers and parliamentarians from the Kukiz’15 movement, which attracted 12% of the vote in the recent elections, to draft a new Food Act that will spell out farmer friendly’ supply and demand conditions that are critical to the survival of family farming traditions in Poland.
Julian adds: “In this, we have been fortunate to have the support of Jaroslaw Sachajko, the new Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, and a prominent member of Kukiz’15 in the Seime (Polish parliament) . . . Working closely with Sachajko has also enabled us to form the wording of the new act into the necessary legal terminology to be presented to parliament”.
Poland is a big country, rich in natural resources, but Rose reports that the European Commission stated outright, back in 2001, that it is the EU’s intention to eradicate the peasant farming tradition in Poland and restructure its agriculture by merging small farms into large scale enterprises able to ‘be competitive in the world market’.
Rose comments, “We all know what that means: large scale agrichemical monocultures exporting commodities onto the highly volatile global market place”.
The battle to prevent this has been the main task undertaken by ICPPC, centring around a major anti GMO campaign which successfully kept genetically modified seeds out of the country and led to a government ban on the import and planting of GM crops in 2006 (also then by Law and Justice).
Now that Law and Justice is back in power – and with a large majority – we have the chance of moving forward on this front as well as rekindling interest in an outright ban of GM animal feed. Such a ban had been proposed by Law and Justice back in 2006, but never came to fruition.
A bottom-up renaissance of real food and real farming is a long term goal of ICPPC. If we can get a genuinely farmer friendly food act through parliament in the coming months, with the road clear of GMOs and repressive food regulations, perhaps entrepreneurial Poles living abroad will be inspired to return to their native land and become instrumental in reviving the rural economy.
Whatever emerges in 2016, we remain committed to helping ‘hold the Polish line’ made up, as it is, of small and medium sized independent family farms, forming both the bedrock and backbone of the nation’s essential food security and sovereignty.