This week thousands of Polish family farmers from the Solidarity trade union turned out to protest in over 50 locations across the country. 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 commit to addressing what they see as a crisis in Polish agriculture.
These actions represent a dramatic escalation of protests that have been simmering across the country over the last year. Edward Kosmal, chairman of the farmers protest committee for West-Pomeranian Region said:
We are ready for dialogue. 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 would be forced to tighten our forms of protest.
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 – (NB. 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
Quotes from Solidarity farmers trade union press releases on the 2nd and 3rd of February:
“We demand a legal ban on GM crops in Poland. 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.”
“We are entitled to conclude that the European Union blindness deprives people in our country from thinking in terms of the importance of development for Polish citizens, and thus the Polish economy”
“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.”
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“.