Why do Poles support farmers' protests despite their own comfort and profits

Friday, 29 March 2024

Even though Polish economy loses millions of zlotys due to farmers' protests (not only in export losses, but also in people's labour cost), the protesters receive unprecedented support from society.

So, it does not look like the protests will stop.

Read more to understand what fuels farmer dissatisfaction and why Poles are willing to sacrifice comfort and profits, but stand firmly behind their farmers, in the article by Olena Babakova, journalist from Warsaw – Suffering but supporting: Why Poles don't demand to stop anti-Ukrainian farmer's protests.

To answer this question, we should pay attention to farmers's social and economic position in Poland after joining the EU.

Firstly, Poles are very attached to products "made in Poland". It is about support for national manufacturers and sentiment towards family roots, as well as often irrational belief that products from other EU countries are more "filled with chemicals".

Secondly, farming is associated with a family business that is passed down from generation to generation.

And accordingly, its protection is the protection of traditional values.

Thirdly, despite substantial financial transfers from Brussels, the overall situation in Polish farming is deteriorating.

As research by the Institute of Public Affairs shows, 54% of farms in 2022 incurred losses or operated at break-even. 44% of farmers were forced to constantly do other work to make ends meet, and another 36% do it from time to time.

The reason is high EU standards for product quality and rising labour costs.

The latter are still lower than in Germany or Italy. That's why Polish products successfully compete with European. But they have no chance with competitors outside the EU.

This is compounded by the decline in prices for agricultural products in global markets.

Farmers' protests would not have such support in society if they didn't touch upon understandable and righteous notes: the struggle of individual entrepreneurs against global, oligarchic capital and the defence of food production standards.

In this regard, the global evil that farmers are fighting on both fronts is Brussels and Kyiv.

The European Commission is blamed for the new common farming policy, which includes the European Green Deal – a massive programme to transform European economies to reduce CO2 emissions.

In the case of Ukraine, protesters criticise the concentration of land in the hands of large agroholdings, where lower labour costs allow for cheaper production, and also accuse Ukrainians of not adhering to European standards, using fertilisers and pesticides, making Ukrainian food "poisonous" and dangerous for Polish consumers.

The farmers's logic is: we have to lose in order to bring our production up to even higher EU standards, while cheap Ukrainian food of poor quality will enter the market.

Not only Ukraine is criticised, but also the Polish government, which allegedly wants to sacrifice Polish agriculture in favour of Ukrainian victory over Russia.

What is needed now is a balanced information campaign (not only in Poland, but across the EU) about the role of global market conditions in reducing farmers' incomes and the role of exports from Ukraine. It is also important to correctly highlight the role of agricultural exports from Russia and Belarus in destabilising European markets.

Polish farmers need to get acquainted with their Ukrainian counterparts, not with Ukrainian ministers. Personal contacts, joint discussions of challenges; the mere recognition of Polish farmers' problems by Ukrainians could already thaw the ice.

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