Thousands of small farmers in Poland are blockading motorways and holding demonstrations to demand land rights, a ban on GMOs and an end to oppressive health and safety regulations – and they are refusing to call off the protests until their demands are met.
A convoy of Polish tractors on the road as part of the biggest farmers’ uprising the country has ever experienced. Photo: via Land Workers Alliance.
We demand the introduction of legislation that will protect Polish land from exploitation by foreign capital! Agricultural land cannot be sold to commercial companies. It’s part of Polish territory. Once sold it will be lost.
Poland’s biggest ever farmers’ protest is now entering its second week after closing down key motorways and main ‘A’ roads.
Rallies and blockades have so far taken place in over 50 locations across the country involving thousands of small and family farmers.
Over 150 tractors have been blockading the A2 motorway into Warsaw since the 3rd February and hundreds more have closed roads and are picketing governmental offices in other regions.
The farmers are vowing to continue the struggle until the government agrees to enter talks with the union and address what the growing crisis in Polish agriculture, and roll back measures that unfairly discriminate against smaller family-run farms.
“We are ready for dialogue”, said Edward Kosmal, chairman of the farmers protest committee for West-Pomeranian Region. “We look forward to meeting with you, Prime Minister, and beginning a comprehensive government commitment to solving the problems of Polish agriculture.
“If you do not enter into a dialogue with the Union, we will be forced to step up our protests.”
Key demands: land rights, no GMOs, legalize farm food sales
The four key demands of the farmers are:
- Land rights – implement regulation to prevent land-grabs by Western companies and to protect family farmers rights to land – from 2016 foreign buyers will be legally able to buy Polish land.
- Legalize direct sales of farm produce – the government must take action to improve farmers’ position in the market, including the adoption of a law to facilitate direct sales of processed and unprocessed farm products (NB. Poland has the most exclusionary policies in Europe around on-farm processing of food products and direct sales, which make it impossible for family farmers to compete with bigger food companies).
- Extend inheritance laws to include land under lease as a fully legal form of land use.
- Ban the cultivation and sale of Genetically Modified Organisms in Poland
“We demand a legal ban on GM crops in Poland”, said one protesting farmer and Solidarity member. “The value of Polish agriculture, unique in Europe, is the unpolluted environment and high quality food production. That’s decisive concerning our competitiveness in global markets.”
Another added: “We demand the introduction of legislation that will protect Polish land from exploitation by foreign capital! Agricultural land cannot be sold to commercial companies. It’s part of Polish territory. Once sold it will be lost.”
A dramatic escalation
These actions represent a dramatic escalation of protests that have been simmering across the country over the last year, but especially in the northern provinces.
An immediate cause of discontent has been oppressive ‘food hygiene’ and other regulations that effectively present small scale farmers from selling their produce on-farm and in local markets, where their mostly organic (if uncertified) produce is widely respected as of higher quality than food gown on modern industrial farms.
Poland is one of the last European countries that still has a large body of small scale ‘peasant’ farmers who still use traditional agricultural methods free of chemicals and with very low levels of mechanization, with horses still widely used for traction.
Farms are typically mixed, with small number of pigs, chickens, cattle and horses and arable fields all contained on around five hectares.
However industrial farmers including foreign corporations are keen to expand their operations and many family farmers see the increasingly stringent regulations as an attempt to force them off their land.
And industrial agriculture is welcomed by Poland’s right-wing government. Thus Smithfield, the world’s biggest pig producer, which bought Poland’s Animex SA in 1999, now runs a string of 16 or more huge hog farms where animal welfare conditions have been described as “horrendous“.
Julian Rose, President of the International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside(ICPPC), explained: “We are witnessing a sharp escalation in activity by Polish farmers squeezed by EU, government and corporate interests.
“These protests are touching the raw nerve of what’s wrong with the inhuman, neo-liberal and profit obsessed practices of today. Practices which ignore the real needs of farmers and consumers alike.”