Do we know what we eat and are going to eat?

Report

The challenges facing modern agriculture, changes going on in the countryside and a reform of the Common Agricultural Policy require an extensive public debate to be initiated, in the opinion of those striving for sustainable development.

On October 29, 2018, a debate entitled “Do we know what we eat and are going to eat?” (Czy wiemy co jemy i co jeść będziemy?) was organised by the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Warsaw and the Green Zone Foundation. The debate in the Central Agricultural Library was opened by the Minister of Agriculture, with the participation of representatives of the administration and parliament, an organic farmer, an agricultural economist and an activist from the new coalition “Living Earth” (Żywa Ziemia). The event was organised as part of the European Days of Action under the slogan “Good Food, Good Farming”.

In the European Union a debate is currently being had on reforming the Common Agricultural Policy, which has thus far accounted for the largest single part of the EU budget. The debate includes civic movements that are highlighting how agricultural practices connect to food quality and environmental impact. They are also seeking agricultural reform that cares more for nature, food quality and the fate of small and medium-sized farms. These voices were heard through the Days of Action for sustainable agriculture, during which dozens of events took place across Europe, including the Warsaw debate, which aimed to show different perspectives, in particular that of the new coalition “Living Earth” (Żywa Ziemia), which works to help make agriculture more socially, ecologically and economically sustainable.

The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Jan Krzysztof Ardanowski, expressed his conviction that Polish agriculture not only can, but should implement all these sustainability proposals.

Often in discussions about agriculture, the measure of modernity and progress is considered to be increased productivity. However, we must remember that this production must be sustainable; we must both ensure that it does not deplete the environment and ensure that the system remains stable. That is why we will develop sustainable agriculture. Polish food should be synonymous with health and the highest quality. It is also important that food production cease to be anonymous, while farmers cannot be the weakest link in the system. We want to support various ways for farmers to organise – cooperatives, self-governance, as well as direct sales. For three years, we have been bringing agriculture and rural areas back into the mainstream of the country's development. I am convinced that this branch of the economy can become a powerhouse for continued growth,” said Minister Ardanowski.

However, the debate also drew attention to the fact that some processes going on in the Polish countryside are harming rural communities. This opinion was expressed by chairman of the Sejm Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, Jarosław Sachajko, among others.

For 20 years we have been seeing a dramatic decline in the number of family farms, leading to the social exclusion of thousands of Polish farmers. Financial preferences and legal regulations are benefitting industrial-scale farms and processing companies, as well as large retail chains. On the one hand, we have extensive food safety regulations. But meanwhile, more than 2,000 crop protection materials that are harmful to the environment and farmers’ health are allowed in crops, and industrially processed food contains many unhealthy substances, especially sugar. Comprehensive changes are needed in favour of greener agriculture and a healthier nutritional system, said Jaroslaw Sachajko.

The answer to these problems could be to strengthen organic farming. After accession to the European Union, there was an increase in the number of organic farms in Poland. However, since 2014, both the number and area of these crops has been on the decrease in our country, despite the opposite trend prevailing in many European countries. Mieczysław Babalski, one of the pioneers of organic farming in Poland, called for better conditions to be created for this sector.

Today, it’s hard to convince farmers to switch to organic farming because conventional agriculture has gone in the wrong direction. Currently, it focuses mainly on seeking to maximise profits, regardless of the harmful environmental and human impacts. For organic farming to grow more, we need to reduce bureaucracy, better implement all agro-environmental programmes, and above all ensure a stable regulatory environment, Mieczysław Babalski emphasised.

Ewa Sufin-Jacquemart of the Green Zone Foundation, who is also an activist for the coalition “Living Earth”, admitted that the revolution that had taken place in Polish agriculture in this century had brought Poland, like other countries, cheap food and higher incomes for many farmers. At the same time, however, it had brought about serious external costs.

These costs include the poisoning of the environment with pesticides, the contamination of groundwater with nitrogen fertilisers, dangerous soil sterilisation and a deepening of climate change, as well as eutrophication, i.e. the excessive mineral and nutrient enrichment of rivers and the Baltic Sea, leading to the formation of anaerobic zones and the dying off of fish. Global agro-business corporations have taken control of seeds and are progressively impoverishing the biodiversity of our fields, while the industrialisation of animal husbandry causes great suffering and also causes environmental degradation. It is extremely important, however, that an alternative exists. Researchers and farmers have proven that we can change the agricultural model to one of agroecology, which is friendly both to the environment and to people, without harming citizens’ nutrition, and even radically improving nutrition quality. All that is needed is the political will at the EU and national level to make the necessary transformation. Pressure from the public is also important in order to speed up this process, said Ewa Sufin-Jacquemart.

Next, Katarzyna Bańkowska, an agricultural economist from the Institute of Rural Development and Agriculture of the Polish Academy of Sciences, stated that extensive dialogue is needed in society when creating agricultural policy.

Our Institute's research has confirmed that local cooperation can stimulate a growth in organic farming production. In turn, the creation of large numbers of organic farms in one region not only has positive environmental effects, but it also makes for more dynamic socio-economic development by creating local jobs. That is why institutional support for producer groups of organic farmers is important, said Dr Bańkowska.

And it is just such support that will be solicited by Poland’s recently formed coalition “Living Earth”, which brings together organisations involved in agriculture and access to food. Its purpose is to shape agricultural and food policies towards socially just and environmentally responsible production, distribution and consumption. The coalition is part a European movement operating under the slogan “Good Food, Good Farming”.

We invite you to watch the debate:

- MP Jarosław Sachajko, chairman of the Sejm Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development,
- Michał Rzytki, Director of the Department of Food Quality and Promotion, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development,
- Dr Katarzyna Bańkowska, Institute of Agriculture and Rural Development of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Department of Economic Modeling,
- Ewa Sufin Jacquemart, president of the board of the Green Zone Foundation,
- Mieczysław Babalski, chairman of the Kuyavia-Pomerania Association of Ecological Producers EKOŁAN, and organic farmer for over 25 years.

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