Thursday 19 February – 6000 farmers marched in Warsaw to protest the Polish government’s failure to address their long-standing demands. After failed talks between Union leaders and the prime minister during the afternoon, farmers built an occupation camp outside the prime ministers palace and have vowed to remain until their demands are met.
Protests have been taking place across the country over the last three weeks with a range of organisations from community groups and local protest committees to regional and national unions blockading roads and government ministries in hundreds of locations. At the national level the protests are being coordinated by the farmers’ branch of the Solidarity union. The Warsaw protest was joined by unions representing bee-keepers, coal miners and nurses who are also on strike. The key demands of the Solidarity Union are for robust legislation to address four main concerns:
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).
Ban the cultivation and sale of Genetically Modified Organisms in Poland.
Implement regulation to ensure farmers are compensated for losses caused by the government’s and the EU’s negligent policies towards quotas, control of wild animals and trade embargoes.
These demands build on long standing grievances among farmers who say that the government has not fulfilled agreements and contracts, leading to bankruptcy for many farmers. The demands centre on loss of agricultural land and an agricultural model that has prohibited the direct sale of products and forced farmers to focus on selling raw products into the low-priced export market. These are then processed by international companies and re-imported leaving Polish farmers with little of the real value of the products.
Speaking at the protest Maria and Mariusz Nowak, family farmers from Zachodniopomorskie province said: “The government needs to resign! We should withdraw our membership of the European Union and recover our national food self-sufficiency. It is crazy that we import products we can produce here – Our products are better quality and are healthier. The government is undermining Polish farmers and needs to resign!”
Jadwiga Lopata, a family farmer and co-director of the International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside (ICPPC) said: “The health and welfare of the nation depends on consumers and farmers having access to traditional seeds and good quality food. The Polish government does not accept this and is destroying the roots of Polish agriculture by listening to corporations rather than the Polish people.”
Click on this link for photos of farmers’ demonstrations