The Battle to Save the Small Farms of Poland
By Julian Rose
I am writing this in the Polish Parliament in Warsaw (The Seime). Jadwiga Lopata, founder of The International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside, myself (ICPPC President) and farmer colleagues from different regions of Poland, are in the parliament as part of a campaign we have been fighting for the past three years, to get the food laws changed. We are supported in this by a number of active consumers and, perhaps surprisingly, by the chairman of the Agricultural Committee, who belongs to the Kukiz 15 social movement which achieved 12% of the vote in the last election.
The current law in Poland discriminates heavily against the small- and medium-sized traditional family farmers by prohibiting the on-farm processing of their traditional high-quality foods. Also banning the sale of such foods in shops and other local and regional outlets.
The only way farmers can be on the right side of the law, is if they register themselves as ‘a business’ and carry out their processing activities in a separate building designed to satisfy ‘hygiene and sanitary’ regulations of the European Union and national government. Regulations that have been designed by supermarkets and the food industry for supermarkets and the food industry.
Widget not in any sidebars
It’s a stitch-up. A stitch-up that exists throughout the corporate dominated world of uniform, centralized, commercial food production and distribution.
But in Poland, the discrimination against ‘real farmers’ and ‘real food’ is particularly harsh; maybe because there are still around one million productive small- and medium-sized farmers whose independent way of life presents a diametrically opposed position to that of agribusiness and big pharma. And it is because agribusiness and big pharma maintain a massive lobbying presence in Brussels, as well as at member state parliamentary levels, that EU officials and national governments nearly always toe the line which is sold to them by the lobbyists. Only highly energetic resistance stands any chance of breaking through this deeply biased charade.
We belong to this highly energetic resistance; and small as it is, we are making waves that increasingly cannot be ignored by the powers that be.
Already, back in 2006, we were able to enlist all sixteen Polish provinces into self-declaring themselves as ‘GMO Free Zones’, which led in turn to the government of that time introducing a total ban on the import and planting of GM crops and seeds. The first country to do so in the Western world.
But the essentially devious nature of the ever changing – and never changing – political system, demands constant eyes wide open pressure in order for the voice of the people to be given any chance of enduring. In this case, small farmers, struggling to maintain their deeply endangered way of life.
In Poland’s long history of foreign occupation (known as the partitions) peasant farmers played a vital role in the resistance. Their stubborn refusal to give up their land during the communist land nationalization movement of the 1950s, caused the Russian military to give up their attempted colonization of much of the Polish countryside.
It was acts of bravery like this, as well as the heroic Warsaw resistance movement of World War Two, that endeared me to this nation. It inspired me to come to Poland to work alongside the repressed and often stigmatized peasant farmers whose love of the land and unassuming acceptance of a life of subsistence, struck me as an enduring template for the future of this planet.
Yet these farmers, who once expressed defiance in the face of their attempted foreign takeover five decades ago, are now treated as criminals by their own government; their fine farmhouse foods being declared as ‘illegal’ while the sterile, denatured and tasteless supermarket foods are given the all clear. What a shocking misappropriation of justice.
Rows of gentlemen (sic) in dark suits are sitting behind a long table in the consultation room. They are parliamentarians, who between them are highly unlikely to have any practical experience or understanding of the way of life of the small family farmer whose fate is largely in their hands. They represent mostly the ‘no change’ advocates of a sterilized status quo.
But there is also a ragamatag bunch of well-informed farmers and consumers raising their voices in support of a simpler, fairer, juster and more honest approach to that of the cut-throat world of mass production and manipulated market places. An approach that would wrest power away from the corporate oppressors and open once again, links to local communities, as well as cooperative working and sharing practices.
Countryside bread makers, artisan cheese specialists, dairy farmers, bee keepers, fine sausage and ham makers, fruit and vegetable growers and many more – are, in reality, cultivators of the only real foods available to a public increasingly sold-out to the Tesco’s, Carrefour’s and Liddle’s of this world. The KFC, McDonald’s and Coca Cola infested urban junk food markets that are surreptitiously poisoning the population of this planet, and in the process, turning human beings into pacifistic tools of the state.
Yet only around twenty years ago, many communities throughout Poland were able to access their daily nutritional requirements direct from the farmer. And it is exactly that line ‘direct from the farmer’ that we chose to spearhead our present campaign. Here is where we must be once more, because local, fresh flavourful artisan foods are a fundamental antidote to the ‘legal’, lifeless, carcinogenic, obesity promoting products that symbolize a world sliding into sterility.
Indeed, recent US research has revealed a dramatic slide in the ability of couples to sire/conceive children during the past two decades or more. Diet has been cited as as a key cause, which includes (but is rarely mentioned) the intake of genetically modified foods.
The small farmers of Poland, still being so numerous in spite of the best efforts of the EU and national government to remove them, are a symbol of a new resistance. One we all need to be part of, in pushing back the forces of destruction and opening ourselves, and others, to the delights of that rich cornucopia of diversity, so often to be found under the stewardship of time-honoured guardians of a bountiful countryside.
The continued push for small farms to be ‘restructured’ so as to compete in the World Market – which is the mantra of the globalist neo-liberal fundamentalists – is no longer credible. It never was. The entrepreneurial skills of the artisan will ultimately endure, as the inhuman, sterile and toxic agribusiness landscape – a canvas for the monocultural assassination of nature – falls under the sheer weight of its own lifeless, repugnant obesity.
The meeting is finally called to a close. The wording of a New Food Act, including the carefully thought through contribution supplied by our own supportive group of farmers and consumers, inches one step closer to becoming law. Inches, because new blocks to this promised land keep being placed along its route, almost without end. ‘Almost’ … and it is that word which gives us heart to keep up the fight.
A fight which is, after all, for more than the survival and revival of the heroes of field and fayre. It is the fight for fundamental justice – and ultimately for life itself.
This article first appeared on www.connorpost.com
Julian Rose is an early pioneer of UK organic farming, an international activist, actor and writer. He is President of The International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside. You can read about and purchase his acclaimed books ‘Changing Course for Life’ and ‘In Defence of Life’ at www.julianrose.info
Image Credit: Ekocentrum ICPPC