Polish farmers should not be afraid of the Green Deal, nor of the pro-ecological solutions being planned for the EU’s agricultural policy, because they are an opportunity for them, not a threat, argues Janusz Wojciechowski, EU Commissioner for Agriculture during a Citizens' Dialogue. He believes that the epidemic has shown highly intensive agriculture to be more susceptible to crises. The online meeting with the public was held on April 30.
In his appearance, Janusz Wojciechowski repeated several times the words “agro-diversity”, “sustainable farming” and “family farms”. He also emphasised on several occasions that the constantly increasing intensiveness and further industrialisation of agricultural production, and the concentration of land, are moves in the wrong direction that must be halted. Thus, much of the Commissioner's statement echoed the theses and postulates long put forward by ecological organisations striving to change the common agricultural policy to more favour environmental protection and small and medium-sized farms.
Wojciechowski was born and raised in the countryside, on a farm, as he mentioned. As a young man, after graduating in law and working as a judge, he visited Denmark as a tourist, where, on account of his origins, he asked to see a local farm.
“I was asked what sort of farm I wanted to see: dairy, pigs, cereal, or something else. And that question surprised me at the time. Because our farm had cows, pigs, chickens, rye, wheat, potatoes, barley, oats. It was all produced on a 10-hectare farm. And there, their agriculture turned out to be strictly specialised in various fields.”
Wojciechowski said that at that time the Polish agricultural model, in which production was fragmented and diversified, seemed backward. Meanwhile, now, especially because of the crisis, this model is returning to favour and should be appreciated. Diversified production means greater safety and ability to withstand shocks. Crises do not usually occur in different production sectors at the same time.
Greater food independence is needed
The Commissioner also emphasised that intensive industrial agriculture is more dependent on external supplies. He especially pointed to industrialised animal breeding, which depends heavily on imports of soybean, which is used for animal feed. Europe receives 36 million tonnes of it each year. In this era of pandemic, the dairy and beef production sectors were seriously disturbed when imports were disrupted. According to Wojciechowski, Europe should significantly reduce this dependence by focusing on cultivating high-protein crops to meet part of the demand for feed.
Another important factor is the reduction in transport. Currently, according to the Commissioner, three billion tonnes of agricultural and food products are transported around Europe every year. Each serving of food that hits our plates has travelled an average of 180 kilometres. And this distance from farm to fork should be shortened. As Wojciechowski pointed out, there is agreement on this among the institutions drafting changes to the European agricultural policy.
A shorter route from farm to fork
Shorter supply chains are one of the assumptions of the EU strategy being drafted, which is called, precisely "Farm to Fork Strategy". The strategy is the part of the European Green Deal related to agriculture and aims to make farming more environmentally sustainable and climate friendly. It sets specific goals for, among other things, limiting the use of pesticides, fertilisers and antibiotics, and for reducing obesity and food waste, as well as increasing organic farming.
The Commissioner emphasised that, while the Green Deal will be a challenge for Poland’s energy sector, Polish agriculture has nothing to fear.
“Support for more sustainable, less intensive agriculture and smaller farms is a good direction from the perspective of Polish farmers. It means more opportunities for small family farms; maybe a little more trouble for those large, intensive ones,” said Wojciechowski.
He added that the new strategy would not be based on imposing further requirements or restrictions on farmers, but would primarily give more support to the production of healthy food with less use of fertilisers and plant protection products.
“Less money must go to those enterprises that are pushing agriculture into a more intensive model and making it more like industry. This needs to stop,” said the Commissioner.
He also believes that further concentration of land should be stopped. Today, there are about ten million farms in the European Union, but just 3% of the owners hold more than half of the agricultural land (52%), and four million small family farms have disappeared in the last decade. Wojciechowski described this phenomenon as bad.
The EU wants to support family farms
He also referred to the widespread stereotype that we are mainly fed by large farms. To the contrary, as he emphasised, the figures show that where smaller farms prevail, production per hectare is greater, sometimes even several times greater. They also create more jobs. Therefore, the Union intends to support diversification, combining crop production with animal breeding, smaller family farms, and a return to small local processing plants to allow small producers to survive on the market. Large factories are not interested in buying small quantities of farm produce, which eliminates those who have smaller but more sustainable production. It is also necessary for EU funds to be – as the Commissioner puts it – “more democratic”: that is, that they should reach more beneficiaries, and most of all the small ones that find it harder to meet the criteria. In his opinion, money should only support those who are really farmers and who “work the land”.
Wojciechowski emphasised that in the era of the pandemic, the European Union had fortunately shown itself to be self-sufficient for food. But all the above actions aim to strengthen this independence. Today, no one is going to suggest that the importance of agriculture can be diminished. The goal is to preserve the wealth of sustainable family farms and prevent further industrialisation. Commissioner Wojciechowski assured that he would do all he could to make this happen across the entire Union, and in Poland.
These assurances are extremely significant to all those who argue that the current CAP needs to be changed. In Poland, these are represented by organisations brought together in the Living Earth Coalition [Koalicja Żywa Ziemia]. The localisation of production and consumption, the shortening of supply chains, support for small farmers engaged in nature-friendly production, and limiting the concentration of land – these are the key demands coming from these circles. Therefore, the fact that the EU Commissioner for Agriculture is declaring his support for them allows us to look to the future with hope.
We also recommend a podcast with Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski entitled "How the virus is changing agriculture":