Polish farmer blockades against land grabbing

Polish farmers are currently blockading towns in Northwest Poland in order to stop the government from leasing off prime farmland to multinational corporations. The farmers are protesting against are seeing many law regulations as a cause of small, local businesses to go under, giving precedence to the large farms, supplying big foreign own supermarket chains in Poland.

The battle of Polish farmers has continued for several years now– and their tractors have been blockading the State Property Agency in the city of Szczecin on the German border since 14th January, 2014. This is a desperate effort from the farmers to stop the government from selling off prime farmland to multinational corporations.

According to the Solidarity of Farmers Trade Union: “In the times of Communism, 70% of land was State owned. Just 20 years later and Polish farmers cannot buy land anymore. Most of it has landed in the hands of foreigners – mainly Danes and Americans.” One of our demands is changing the regulations allowing foreign companies to buy land in Poland. The State policy should instead help our family farms and help them to develop, Jan Zawisza – leader of Solidarity of Farmers in Kielce Region – told Echo Dnia newspaper .

The State Property Agency was founded in Poland in 1991 after the dissolving of the State Farm Communist system. The Agency then got 4,7 million hectares which were supposed to help family farmers to enlarge their farms. Instead, many thousand of hectares were leased to foreign companies; now among the biggest recipients of Common Agriculture Policy money are Danish Poldanor and Top Farm – part of Spearhead International Ltd.  Having 75 thousand hectares in Britain and Eastern Europe.

Protesting farmers are accusing the administrative bodies of widespread corruption. In February 2012 Central Anti-Corruption Bureau (CBA) arrested a top official of the State Property Agency in the city of Lublin (South East Poland). In January 2014, the Head of the State Property Agency in the city of Bydgoszcz was arrested. In August 2013 CBA and Supreme Audit Chamber (NIK) exposed a vast corruption scheme in the State Property Agency in another city – Poznan. According to the Press Officer of NIK Mr. Pawel Biedziak the Agency illegally leased 8,000 hectares without tenders in this region alone.

Land grabs by multinational corporations are becoming more common around the world as corporations look to establish themselves on foreign soils and exploit the resource base in order to increase their export opportunities.  Along with the process of land concentration, the processes of intensification in agricultural production occurs simultaneously, with increased use of pesticides, antibiotics in animal husbandry and controversial GMOs as animal feed. This in turn also helps the spread of monoculture of crops (oilseed rape and cereals), endangering biodiversity.

Last year farmers met with the Polish Minister of Agriculture, Stanislaw Kalemba, but the official policy which discriminates against family farmers was not changed – according to the organisers of the protests.

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Marek Kydra is a journalist and film maker from Poland.