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Agata Szlagier-Jablonska

Agata Szlagier-Jablonska gives her perspective on what being part of the EU really means to Polish farmers
Agata Szlagier-Jablonska gives her perspective on what being part of the EU really means to Polish farmers

The challenges facing Polish agriculture within the EU

Agata Szlagier-Jablonska is Former chair of Poland's leading Organic Association.

No Polish farmer is ever going to forget 2004. Poland has just joined the European Union and many of us feel afraid of what this will mean for us farmers and our land. I realise that many people in other parts of the world think this must be a good time to be a farmer in Poland: our land is good, the weather is good and now that we have joined the EU we have openings in so many markets. But there are also so many challenges now.

On my 38 hectares, 23 hectares are in pasture, on which I keep goats and I make my own cheeses. I also grow cereals, sugar beet, potatoes and other vegetables. I don't know exactly how farming was a hundred years ago - I don't think that it was any easier then - but I do feel that thirty years ago agriculture in Poland was in many ways in better shape, and had better prospects.

In Poland, which is the ninth largest country in Europe, there are still over 2 million private farms and the average farm is 7.6 hectares, which is very small by western European standards. Over one third of Poles live in the rural areas. However, according to our government, this should soon change; they have declared that the 'positive' influence of the EU will be that farm size will increase and that this country needs only 800,000 farms. But it seems there is no idea what to do with all the farmers; where are over a million farming families supposed to go? What work can they find? People in the countryside are not well educated, so they are not likely to find work in the cities. Even if they wanted to re-train there are few chances for getting a better education or training to suit jobs off the land.

Farmers in other EU countries are right to fear Polish agriculture, and to see us as a threat. Yes, we will be even greater producers of grain, vegetables and pork. But many of us don't want to threaten other markets, just as we don't want to have to compete with imports of produce grown elsewhere in Europe. We Polish farmers know we are not strong when it comes to competing with others in the EU.

So, farmers have been organising protests. For the last ten years farm incomes in Poland have been falling, and all that you can earn from your farm is used up to live with no money left to make any investment like buying new equipment. My old equipment is getting useless but, even if you want to borrow, we small-scale farmers often cannot get loans because we don't meet the criteria for credit, while larger farms have been able to take advantage of the EU pre-accession assistance on offer.

May 1st 2004 came and Poland joined the EU. Many farmers had been persuaded to vote 'yes' to the EU by promises of production and environmental subsidies. But already the promises of the politicians have gone away! The legal system is not ready to fulfil the EU obligations. The IACS land registration system (that will make land holdings eligible for the subsidy) that was supposed to be complete months ago is nowhere near ready. But we now know that Polish farmers will receive only a fraction of the subsidies that farmers get in Britain or France or other older members of the EU.

I suppose that farmers far from the EU might envy Polish farmers because we are near to the rich, and because we now have the protection and the support the EU gives. What I see is that up until now, all over the world many farmers have suffered because of the Common Agricultural Policy. And I realise that I farm in a time of a strange new philosophy in farming. Joining the EU means we may get more - but it will cost us too!

Date published: July 2004


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