Blueprint for the Future of the Polish Countryside and Rural Economy
Sir Julian Rose, President, International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside
The Polish Countryside is the single greatest resource base of the Nation.
The nurturing of it’s health and welfare therefore needs to be given the highest priority.
There is a great need (and opportunity) at this moment in history, to initiate a bold plan to unite the key social, environmental and economic elements of country life and thus prevent it continuing to suffer a slow death.
European/World Agriculture in Crisis:
Because of the rapid changes that have taken place during the past three decades, many traditional countryside values are now under threat. Some have already reached breaking point.
Throughout Europe, the health of the environment, agricultural communities and food quality have been undermined by large scale corporate agribusiness with the sole ambition of maximising profits.
This has caused a huge rupture in the continuity and equilibrium of rural life. US style supermarket chains, industrial agriculture and European Union hygiene and sanitary regulatory controls – as well as subsidies designed to benefit large scale farming enterprise, have combined to stifle the natural entrepreneurial instincts of farming communities and have opened Europe up to exploitation by the corporate promoters of the global market place.
Poland is now coming under the shadow of this regime.
In the rush to supply the increasingly dominant supermarket chain’s huge demand for large volumes of cheap food, pharmaceutical inventions and genetic engineering are being given precedence over land wisdom. Genetically modified organisms and cloned sheep and pigs are just the latest in a line of laboratory techniques designed to promote this agenda and to work against the wishes of the people, in Poland and throughout Europe.
Poland has the unique opportunity to by-pass this destructive course. Capitalism, in the hands of corporate imperialists and weak government has proved to be as destructive as Communism in the hands of a centralised politburo.
Of all the Countries in Europe, Poland is best placed to reverse the momentum of the destructive trends described above.
Many small and medium sized peasant and family farms are still operational, but only just.
Their owners, while not necessarily forward looking, retain a priceless knowledge of the land and the ability to maintain it in optimum condition from generation to generation. Mostly it is unpolluted by pesticides and retains relatively high levels of soil fertility. Consequently, a rich tapestry of plant and bird diversity, unequalled anywhere in Europe, continues to enrich the Polish countryside. It is an untold wealth and provides the base upon which Polish citizens will have to rely in the future and upon which National Food Security depends.
However, these family farms are now under enormous pressure from
the European Union and The ‘global marketplace’. It is the European Commission’s stated intention to ‘restructure’ Polish agriculture and make it conform to the model of the soul-less, sanitised and mechanized ‘agribusiness’ described above.
In order to achieve such a ‘modernisation’ programme, more than one million farmers must be driven off the land and into the cities, according to senior figures in the European Commission, adding to already acute unemployment problems. The same ‘restructuring’ process has been forced on every other EU country over the past 3 decades, with devastating effects on rural employment, food quality, soil fertility, biodiversity and human health.
Current Destruction of Local and National Natural Resources:
The infrastructure which supports diverse family farming in Poland is already in an advanced stage of crisis. More than 60% of small and medium sized milk and meat processing plants and approximately the same number of local abattoirs have already fallen to EU sanitary and hygiene regulations that have little or no connection with maintaining healthy food and healthy people. Thousands of farmers have already been forced into bankruptcy through the closure of these vital links in the chain.
Poor quality imported milk, meat and vegetable produce is replacing high quality, home grown, Polish foods and at subsidy backed distorted prices.
The sole beneficiaries of this agenda are the large multinational hypermarket chains and the large scale farming enterprises that supply them. UK research has shown that over 250 small businesses go bankrupt every time a new supermarket is opened.
Intensive lobbying by large companies and the main supermarket chains, has established a monopoly of agricultural business between large, intensive farms and the major multiple chains. The majority of small and medium sized farms are simply eclipsed. Those that remain and apply for EU subsidies become enslaved by a distant and detached bureaucracy which decides and controls every aspect of agricultural production.
Poland As A Pioneer of Positive Change:
Our job is to rescue Poland from this fate and to build in it’s place a new vision
of a thriving, independent and largely decentralised, agriculture and mixed rural economy which will eventually be recognised as a model for other countries, both in Europe and the World. It is a radical but essentially ‘common sense’ agenda.
This undertaking calls for an agricultural/countryside policy which links traditional and environmentally friendly forms of land management to a new and innovative use of natural resources and renewable energy technologies. It centres on a pluralistic and mixed rural economy that encourages a wide variety of small and medium sized enterprises to be established in rural areas currently over reliant on agriculture as the main employment generator.
The goal will be to re establish food and energy sovereignty at the local, regional and national level.
This will involve a revival of country towns as trading ‘hubs’ coupled to national targets for renewable energy, food and building material self sufficiency over the coming years.
This should emphasise the potential of geothermal and hydro power as well as biomass production for regional heating and electricity generation.
Incorporated into this approach will be the need to sustain new vocational (hands-on) educational and employment opportunities for young people, required for the realisation of the overall “Greening of Poland”. A direct link into the creative arts is important to provide fresh momentum and a new sense of excitement concerning the challenges involved in establishing new opportunities in the countryside. ‘Start up’ appropriate local business opportunities – and new or adapted buildings – must be supported by National government to give youth the incentive to develop active employment in Poland.
A GMO free Poland:
National Agricultural Policy must ensure that all farming, forestry and energy production is carried out according to methods that combine proven ecological conservation with meeting the basic needs of the population for food, shelter and fuel. There is no need – and no place – for massively costly and high risk developments, such as nuclear power stations or intensive chemical and GMO farming in this scenario. The risks far outweigh the advantages. Neither is there any place for the import of seeds and plants for bio-fuel production. Utilising indigenous plants, trees and seeds is a far more effective way of meeting the Country’s green energy requirements than relying on mono cultural practices that utilise toxic chemicals and as much (if not more) energy than they ever give back.
The global export market can no longer be the main target for realising economic returns to farmers. It has already failed all but the biggest. The supply chain must now be internalised and greatly shortened. Some exports to surrounding European markets should be maintained.
There are guidelines how to achieve internalised food security laid out under the ‘Proximity Principle’ (author, Julian Rose circa 1998). The priority is to provide the basic needs of all population centres from natural resources drawn from the area of land immediately surrounding them. If there is a specific local shortage, this should then be sourced from the next closest area of availability .. and so on throughout the country.
Where there is a surplus, it can be used to make up any shortfall in other adjoining areas.
The Proximity Principle particularly applies to food, fuel, fabrics, minerals, water and energy. It is an essential component in the creation of genuine ‘sustainable development’. Only when all local, regional and national needs have been met internally, should the export market be utilised for any remaining surplus. Low ‘food kilometres’ are part of the targets for all nations today. A big reduction in road freighted commodities is essential to maintaining environmental and human health.
At a time of acute environmental stress and the ever present threat of global weather disruption, specific targets for reducing fossil fuel energy consumption and a switch to renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, geothermal, methane, micro-hydro and biomass, are essential worldwide, and of great importance to Poland.
Adherence to the Proximity Principle, plus a major energy saving drive in all areas of domestic and industrial life, will be essential in order to redress the currently ‘out of balance’ industrial and household emissions position in Poland.
The process of harnessing ‘new solutions to old problems’ will stimulate the national, regional and local economy and create jobs that would otherwise not exist.
It is a dynamic ‘greening’ agenda, similar to that currently being pursued by Barak Obama in The USA, in order to rescue the collapsing US economy.
The Foundation for Sustainable Development:
A disregard for the subtle fabric of our precious planet has led to a fragmentation of the social and economic cohesion of previously stable communities as well as the
near collapse of much native flora and fauna.
Once one has established the correct stimulus to encourage country towns and villages to purchase the majority of their food, fuel and fibre from local sources, many other neglected indigenous social and cultural benefits will fall naturally into place, including the rekindling of a pride in village and town life and the revitalising of positive traditions and skills that will otherwise be lost forever.
By initiating incentives to promote the purchase of ‘local food’, schools, restaurants, government institutions and small shops will directly stimulate employment in the local economy and support farmers who otherwise will have no market in which to sell their produce and support their families.
Computer models can be developed that demonstrate the Proximity Principle in action
and certain market towns can be chosen to become pioneer projects, attracting national and EU funding. Government agencies and advice offices will also have an important role to play in implementing local and regional ‘green’ action plans.
A genuine renaissance of interconnected rural and town life, giving hope and security to young and old, can be achieved providing this holistic, joined-up approach is carefully followed. The re linking of town and country in a truly organic and sustainable way, is not just an ‘interesting idea’, it is a necessity of our time. Our planet, no less the Polish countryside, cannot absorb any more wasteful exploitation of it’s rapidly diminishing resources, without self destructing.
Everyone has a part to play in ensuring that a better world can be passed on to the generations that follow us.
Julian Rose, Stryszow, February 2009
“One cannot solve present problems by using the same thinking that produced them”