RUW Foundation and the Rural Sociology Group organized a studytrip to Poland. In a 10 day intensive program different cities and rural areas in Poland were visited, interesting people and organizations met and farm work is done. The theme of the trip is “Glocalise”. Students are asked to prepare themselves well on different themes in groups before leaving and to write a concluding reflexive paper on their impressions and findings, and to write a blog. This fourth blog is about the logistical side of the trip by:
Louise van der Stok, Rosan de Groot, Hilde-Marije Dorresteijn, Hanbin Qiao, Annika Meuche, Mathilde Sanglier, Malou Heidekamp
Tuesday July 9th. On the program today were in the morning a visit to the Polish Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and in the afternoon we visited the Dutch Embassy. Both with the main focus on the agricultural sector and its development, and especially on policies that (try to) regulate Polish agriculture.
At 9.30am we received a warm welcome at the Ministry with coffee, tea and lots of toast and biscuits, after which we started the session with some facts about Polish agriculture. Some numbers: out of the 38 million Polish inhabitants, 23.3 million people live in urban areas and 14.8 million in rural areas. Furthermore is 93.2% of Polish territory is classified as rural area. These are considerable amounts, indicating the importance of the agricultural sector. However, as a percentage of the GDP agriculture only has a minor role, as the sector still consists of a majority of small-scale subsistence family farms (± 9 ha). Polish policy is on the one hand focused on supporting smaller farmers and on the other hand in favour of scale enlargement to be more competitive on the market. Several strategies are being implemented to make farming more attractive, like; start-up aids for young farmers and early retirement schemes. Small farms are also supported by a new land reform law that will force large scale land leasers of state land to return a part of their land to be sold to small farmers. This new law shows that Polish politics are favouring the development of family farms over the European aim of modernising agriculture through scale enlargement.
Some persistent difficulties do exist however, such as the poor (water) infrastructure due to a lack of modernization and maintenance. Modernization is taking its time meaning that the general improvement of rural areas is another major concern of the Ministry; a net flow of out-migration is taking place in many rural areas. The EU funded rural development program is supposed to enhance the quality of life in these areas, for example by creating access to labour markets equal to the access in cities, improving infrastructure and by supporting the start of new local enterprises and the organization of local action groups.
In the two and a half hours the visit took, we received a lot of information and many interesting questions were asked and answered. It became clear that the agricultural sector and the development of rural areas in Poland is a challenging topic, yet many promising policy implementations are taking place and good initiatives are being supported. There certainly is no lack of enthusiasm on the side of the people working on it at the ministry.
After a nice lunch break we went to the Dutch embassy, the agricultural council. Their task is to promote the Dutch economy and to increase the cooperation between Poland and the Netherlands and especially as far as knowledge transfer is concerned. It was interesting to see the contrast between this talk of a Dutch economist and the talk from the Agricultural Ministry. Indeed, the Dutch councilor criticized the national land reform for being not focussing on large agriculture projects and excluding foreign investors. He also mentioned that Polish agriculture stays very traditional and yields are low. One reason is that transfer of knowledge between agricultural universities and farmers is not given.
What became clear during the day is that there are big differences in farming in Poland. Farms range from small self sufficient farmers that use traditional methods till huge farms of thousands of hectares that produce for the international market. The new land law in Poland is prohibiting foreign farmers to buy land and is forcing big farms that lease land from the state to give back up to 30% of that land. This policy was explained to us as a method to protect Polish farmers. At the Dutch Embassy they were critical about this new law. This law was part of the negotiations for entering the EU and the EU agreed with it however, it is also contradicting with one of the basic principles of the EU, having an open market between member states. Foreign farmers are forced to give up part of their land, which is bad for business and continuity at the farm.
It was a very interesting day in which we learned about Polish agriculture from different perspectives. We got the opportunity to ask many questions which made it possible to dig deeper and better understand the polish agricultural system.