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Despite the traffic disruptions, Poles support the farmers’ protests. However, their demands are accompanied by a number of myths

FOOD & AGRICULTUREDespite the traffic disruptions, Poles support the farmers' protests. However, their demands are accompanied by a number of myths

Farmers have been organizing protests for months, with the main subject being the European Green Deal (EGD) and the import of grain from Ukraine. The EGD has become, in experts’ opinions, a “scapegoat,” while its purpose is to level the competitive playing field for smaller farms against those producing on an industrial scale. The necessity of fallowing part of the lands and moving away from pesticides, which when overused, contaminate water and soil and harm agriculture, is also misunderstood.

The Living Earth Coalition highlights prevailing beliefs in society that are widespread yet diverge from the truth. Inspired by the ongoing farmer protests against the implementation of the European Green Deal and the import of grain from Ukraine, experts from the Institute of Public Affairs have prepared a report titled “10 Myths About Agriculture.”

“One of the most common pieces of misinformation that appears during farmers’ protests is certainly the one concerning so-called fallowing, meaning that 4% of the area in a farm must be excluded from production. This is not true,” says Justyna Zwolińska from the Living Earth Coalition to the Newseria Biznes news agency. “Fallowing, or not conducting agricultural production on part of the lands, is important primarily for caring for the quality of soils, which, among other things, better retain and store water. On these 4% that would be fallowed, it is also possible to grow cereals, green manure plants, leguminous plants; it’s just not allowed to cultivate soy, corn, and short rotation coppices. And it can be done provided that no plant protection products are used. Farmers still receive payments for this area.”

Farmers expect that the EU will require them to meet very burdensome environmental and climate protection requirements. They believe this will negatively affect their competitiveness – as goods imported from outside the EU, which are not subject to the same requirements, will flow into the European Union.

“That’s also not entirely true. Because if agreements regarding the import of goods into the European Union are signed, the principle of mutual compatibility applies, and in many cases, exporting countries have to meet similar requirements. At least this is the case with organic agriculture products. It’s just a matter of whether border control in the European Union will catch those that do not meet the standards regarding food and other agricultural products,” says Justyna Zwolińska.

A recent IBRiS study commissioned by “Rzeczpospolita” shows that despite the aggressive behavior of some protesters and the appearance of pro-Russian slogans during the protests, the majority of Poles consider the farmers’ protests justified. More than half of the respondents strongly support them, and another 21% declare they “rather support” them. As the author of the study comments, this may not result from an understanding of the farmers’ situation but from general concerns among respondents related to the green transformation, including the ban on the sale of combustion-engine cars from 2035.

“I don’t know why farmers are protesting against the European Green Deal because it is a reform that will ensure their security in the form of protection of ecosystems, water resources, soil – everything they need for production. They should be advocates of the European Green Deal, especially smaller farms,” assesses the expert from the Living Earth Coalition.

As ISP experts emphasize, the problem for Polish agriculture seems not to be the principles underlying the EGD, but rather their execution in practice: problems with advice and support, lack of communication, and informational chaos.

“I don’t know if farmers fully understand what is in the European Green Deal because it seems to me, as information is presented, that they do not fully understand the detailed assumptions or are not aware of them, which is certainly the fault of public institutions that maybe this knowledge was not properly conveyed to farmers. But I think the main issue is that farmers are frustrated, upset, and concerned that the possibility of selling products on the market is changing so much, especially due to the significant threat from imported products,” says Justyna Zwolińska. “The threat is not products from Ukraine, at least not on the scale that is shown. The problem is that Russia had a huge overproduction of grain. Because there is a lot of grain on the market, prices are naturally lowered.”

In 2020 in Poland, the average income per person in households living in cities was 28% higher than in the countryside. Overall, about 30% of farmers declare that they are unable to support themselves and their family solely from farming. Non-agricultural work is undertaken by nearly one-fourth of those managing farms (23.9%). The smallest farms up to 5 hectares are in the most difficult situation (only just under 26% of farmers with such farms can maintain themselves from them). For farms over 30 hectares, this percentage exceeds 94%.

One of the main problems of agriculture is the growing income disparity between smaller and larger farms, including large-scale agriculture. Meanwhile, leveling these differences and protecting small farms are some of the main goals of

the European Green Deal and the Common Agricultural Policy for 2023–2027.

“It’s hard to agree with the argument that the European Green Deal and green reforms in agriculture could threaten food security in any way. It’s the direction towards intensification, industrialization, schematization of agriculture that will threaten food security because we will destroy natural resources and ecosystems that should support us in agricultural production,” argues the representative from the Living Earth Coalition. “If we run out of water and soil of adequate quality, we won’t be able to undertake agricultural production at all, so we will start lacking food. But we have food overproduction – we send abroad up to 50%, and in the case of some products up to 80% of what we produce. So, what we are able to produce for the domestic market is certainly very safe.”

Justyna Zwolińska also raises the issue of food wastage, reaching double-digit values. In her view, it’s hard to reconcile with the argument that we can’t at least partially exclude some lands from production to protect the environment and climate and that we can’t change these practices, reducing the use of plant protection products and artificial fertilizers, because we have too little food. On the other hand – as the expert emphasizes – farmers’ dissatisfaction is understandable, as they only receive 20% of the final price. The rest of what consumers pay goes to the next entities in the supply chain (wholesalers, retail chains).

“Therefore, if we want to be food secure, we should bring farmers closer to consumers, eliminating all intermediaries standing between them, and above all, take care of the environment and climate, because they are the basis for us to be able to produce food in the future and thus feel safe,” adds the expert.

ISP experts emphasize that the quality of food is increasingly important for society, not only Polish. The data cited in the report indicate that 60% of consumers would be willing to choose environmentally friendly products, even if they were more expensive. It is on high-quality products that Polish farms can build their competitive advantage in the future, also after Ukraine joins the European Union.

“This European Green Deal is a bit of a ‘scapegoat,’ meaning we are being encouraged to make ecological, green reforms, which in some way may interfere with our agricultural production – at least that’s how it’s perceived by some farmers. Therefore, we are also opposed to the European Green Deal. The question is also maybe whether it’s really farmers who are opposed because it might also be the voice of those selling pesticides, antibiotics, and artificial fertilizers, to whom such reforms are certainly not desirable,” says Justyna Zwolińska.

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