Organic Agriculture in Poland: Alternative Income Through Extensive Land-use
by Redaktion (comments: 0)
In the opinion of Polish experts, there is no fear of competition from Poland. At present, the structure of production is too small-scale; marketing is not concentrated. The big increases in land area quickly reveal another source of income in a system of extensive land-use. Most of the crops produced on this land never appear on the market as organic produce.
The shift to organic farming in eastern Europe began 20 years later than in western Europe. Specialist whole food shops and the wholesale trade in whole food are still in the development stage.
Picture: Rural idyll in Poland
Currently, there are 99 processors and 240 outlets in Poland for organic products. BioFach’s country of the year 2006 is on the verge of a great leap forward in agriculture: the area of organically farmed land is up to 167,740 ha. The number of organic farms in Poland increased to 7183 (3670 in 2004). There has been a law in Poland since the end of 2001 that regulates organic agriculture. Poland has huge growth potential in organic agriculture and great opportunities in market development. However, the supply of organic food to the 38 million inhabitants has so far not been particularly impressive.
Agriculture in Poland has been characterised for decades by extensive cropping that can still be seen today. Intensive agriculture like that found in western Europe is only slowly establishing itself. The reason why few pesticides and artificial fertilisers are used is their high cost compared with the low producer returns. However, a crucial role is played by the dividing of land on inheritance, a system that has led to extremely small plots in the east and south of Poland (pictures). The vast majority of these tiny areas of land are subsistence farms providing the rural population rather than for producing big crops for the market. Of course, changing from extensive cultivation to the organic method of farming is not a big step. Consequently, for the last two or three years more and more farmers have been taking advantage of conversion grants and registering as organic farmers. In the early stages after 1989, organic farming developed rather hesitantly as a niche activity. But when grants were paid out, the number of organic farmers suddenly trebled in one year (1999-2000). Since then, the number has increased significantly year on year.
The average size of organic farms is 26 ha, which is much bigger than conventional farms. 47 % of certified organic land is used for arable crops and pasture, vegetables are grown on 1% and berry fruits and other fruits are cropped on 5 % (2004). When Poland joined the European Union on 1 May 2004, grants for organic farmers were doubled, which was a considerable financial incentive to convert. In line with other European countries, the per hectare subsidy, funded by the EU, is 140 Euros for arable land and 358 Euros for fruit cultivation. In addition, the inspection costs paid by farmers to the bodies regulating organic farming are subsidised.
The structure of organic farming is varied. Roughly a half of the 3760 organic farms have between 5 and 20 ha. These account for most of the organically farmed land. 19 % of farms are very small, with less than 5 ha. 18 % of farms have 20-50 ha. Only 7 % of farms are bigger than these with 50- 100 ha, and only every twentieth farm consists of 100 ha and above. In actual figures, there are 175 large-scale farms. Whereas in Germany only 2 % of the population work in agriculture, the figure for Poland is 18%. Organic agriculture represents a real alternative for the Polish government to ensure a future for at least some farms.
With an area of 16.2 million ha, Poland has approximately the same amount of agricultural land as Germany (17 million ha). Poland is divided into 16 administrative regions. The region called Masowien round the capital Warsaw is in the forefront of organic development. It was here that in 2001 a pilot project was started that from 2002 onwards has been a source of information for more than 400 farmers.
Regulatory bodies ensure safety
Seven regulatory bodies ensure that the farms of all organic farmers are inspected once a year. Fortunately, the state bears most of the costs of the regulatory regime. The three biggest regulatory bodies are Ekogwarancja PTRE, AgroBiotest and Bioekspert. They check more than 80% of producers. Some farmers with organic certification have joined together in the associations Ekoland, Biogleba and another in Radom. A state organic logo is currently being devised. Up to now, they have been using the European EU organic symbol with a yellow ear of corn on a blue background in a circle of stars. Some words have been added to indicate organic origin: “Rolnictwo ekologiczne - system kontroli WE”, and for extra security the regulatory body is also given.
Interview with Dorota Metera (Regulatory Body Bioekspert)
Dorota Metera knows the organic industry in Poland very well.
Is Polish organic production a threat to western organic farmers?
No, because the amounts produced so far have been too small. Practically all the grain produced in this country has been processed here in Poland into noodles and bread, for example. There are very few Polish firms specialising in exports, and the main items exported are frozen strawberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants and raspberries.
What is the situation with milk and meat produced on extensively used pasture land?
Large areas in Poland are regarded as organic for the purpose of subsidies, but very little is actually produced on this pasture land, and there is hardly any animal keeping. Anything that is produced is mostly sold on the conventional market, because there is as yet still no proper marketing structure for organic goods.
Could Polish products, that are produced more cheaply on account of lower wages, represent a danger for the German organic market in the future?
Both the production and marketing of organics has been so perfectly organised in Germany for 20-30 years that Polish organic farmers cannot beat the competition simply because they have a price advantage. The Polish farmers have still to learn how to collaborate, how products are properly sorted, packaged and offered for sale, and how to operate effective advertising campaigns. By the time they have learned all of that, the German farmers will certainly have moved on and developed such new ideas as supplying canteens, processing local products on-farm, and marketing organic flowers.
Interview with Ursula Soltysiak (Regulatory Body Agrobiotest)
We put our questions to this expert who has many years of experience in organic agriculture in Poland. She is head of the certification body Agrobiotest (pictures: team).
Are organic products from Poland safe?
I don’t regard the risk of deception as being particularly high, since the price differences between conventional and organic products at the producer level are not great. Many traditional farms operate without pesticides and artificial fertilisers because they cannot afford them. They are used by only about 20-30% of farms. In any case, it is difficult to get a higher price for organic products on the Polish market.
Are organic products as well regulated as in Germany?
Since the time it was announced that Poland would join the EU, we have been adjusting to the adoption of the EU guidelines and rules on regulation. We have had organised certification by regulatory bodies since 2001. Over and above that, there is the social control of the village, since neighbours know precisely what an organic farm is using. Moreover, people in Poland are of the same opinion as the Germans, namely that a farm can only convert as a whole unit. There are hardly any farms with both organic and conventional cultivation.
How many farms are regulated by Agrobiotest?
We check all farms once a year as prescribed in the EU organic guideline 2092/91. In addition, 5% of farms are subject to an unannounced check. This number includes the more precise examination of farms in the at-risk category, in which there is a greater probability of irregularities. In 2004, we inspected 1 097 farms, and we had to suspend only two. In one case this was because the farm employees had been wrongly informed and assumed there was no objection to using the fertiliser potassium chloride. I cannot confirm a single intentional case of deception in the last few years; most cases of non-compliance are to do with lack of knowledge about how to implement organic land management.
How many employees do you have?
The certification body Agrobiotest was founded in 1997 and today it employs five permanent staff and 50 freelance inspectors. We have rented rooms in the agricultural university in Warsaw so that close collaboration with the university can be developed.
Biggest Agricultural Association
Ul. Piotrkowska 83
0048 (0) 42 6329765 Fax: 6300740
Bioekspert Sp. z o.o.
Jednostka Certyfikujaca w Rolnictwie Ekologicznym
Ul. Boya-Zelenskiego 6 lok. 34
Tel: 0048 (0) 22 499 53 66
Fax: 0048 (0) 22 499 53 67
ICPPC - International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside,
Miedzynarodowa Koalicja dla Ochrony Polskiej Wsi
34-146 Stryszow 156, Poland Tel/Fax: +48 33 8797114
Biuro@icppc.pl www.gmo.icppc.pl www.eko-cel.pl