Polish farmers to continue protests against new land sale laws
While the farmers could not take their protest directly into the city center as they had not received official permission from the police, hundreds still blockaded roads in the surrounding suburbs, some driving tractors and other farm vehicles.
A row has erupted in the country following the government's introduction of new regulations concerning the sale of farming landing that now allows corporations the right to buy up large swathes, which some say, will threaten the small-scale farming, agricultural enterprise and lead to large land grabs by foreign investment.
Speaking to www.freshfruitportal.com, spokesperson for the International Coalition for the Protection of the Polish Countryside (ICPPC) Joanna Bojczewska explains the demands of protestors who, she says, have so far been ignored by Polish agricultural minister Marek Sawicki.
There are four key issues with the main bone of contention relating to the potential for land grabbing and the consequent damage that would have on fresh produce sectors and other farming sectors like the meat industry, she said.
"The core of the protest is about preventing the sale of Polish agricultural land that might happen from 2016 if the current law continues. This will expose Polish land to be bought by foreign buyers and will threaten small farmers with western capital coming in and land grabs which are already happening in the northwest region of Pomerania," she said.
"Another issue concerning land is around the inheritance of leased land. At the moment farmers can have very long-term leases of agricultural land which can be inherited by their children. The new law, from 2016, will threaten this system as well and anyone will be able to lease the land with a higher negotiating power.
"Another major issue in Poland currently is that small farmers are prohibited from the direct sale of their own farm processed produce. That means even if they pack some carrots in a bag, that's classified as a processed product. In Poland farmers are penalized and prosecuted for this."
Bojczewska says this 'inhibits small-scale enterprise' because a farm needs to have a completely separate building where so-called 'processing' takes place, whereas many farming sectors have, up until now, been doing this kind of work in 'their own kitchens'.
"They [farmers] can sell loose carrots directly for example but any form of processing methods or packaging is prohibited."
The fourth issue relates to the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops, including the trading of GM seeds.
"This is a controversial issue for many Polish farmers who do not want GM crops grown in Poland at all and at any point," Bojczewska said.
"All of these issues and the government altering the regulations have come about as a result of Poland's full transition into the European Union.
"So far the farmers have been pretty unsuccessful in getting the leaders of the protest to talk to the minister and this morning's protest (Feb. 11) was altered at the last-minute because the application for a legal demonstration was rejected on the grounds that it came in too late."
More blockades are planned over the coming weeks, and an official application is going into Polish authorities for a protest camp outside governmental buildings in Warsaw where protestors plan to gather for several days.
"The key figures of government have not met with the protest committee and leaders so they are not really properly responding to the calls. In fact, they are more concerned with articulating that farmers are breaching traffic laws or the fact they don't have the correct insurance to be on the roads," Bojczewska said.
"So it's been really hard to gauge what the government's comments are on these issues, because they are not engaging with the protestors.
"Even before Poland's introduction to the EU, there has been a massive reduction of small family farms because of the corporative takeover of food distribution chains. Issues have been escalating for some time. Polish farmers are not treated as producers; they are treated as suppliers of raw material which means that they are very limited to make their livelihoods better by adding value to their products. The problems are systemic."
Photo: Warsaw, via Wikimedia Creative Commons