MARCH 2, 2015: Poland’s largest farmer uprising ever has occurred as convoys of tractors took to the roads recently in protest of GMO infiltration and land grabs by biotech and Big Ag corporations.
Thousands of farmers blocked roadways and held numerous demonstrations in order to bring attention to the important issue of food sovereignty in Poland. Their focus is a ban on GMOs and a restoration of small farmers̕ rights after decades of oppressive health and safety regulations, which take rights away from small farms and give them to mono-cropping, poisoning Big Ag mega-companies.
The farmers have been stalwart—refusing to call off their demonstrations until their demands are met. Rallies and demonstrations have taken place around the country—in over fifty locations. Hundreds a re picketing government offices in addition to the road blockades.
In the largest organized farmers̕ protest the country has likely ever seen, the farmers are demanding that legislators protect the small farmer from exploitation by monopolizing companies and refuse to sell-off their country’s land to these behemoths. As the farmers point out, once the land is sold, the Big Ag model can’t be stopped, and the land is forever lost.
Until government officials agree to talk with the farming unions, they have vowed to keep up their efforts. Edward Kosmal, chairman of the farmers̕ protest committee for the West Pomeranian Region said:
“We are ready for dialogue. We look forward to meeting with you, Prime Minister, and beginning a comprehensive government commitment to solving the problems of Polish agriculture. If you do not enter into a dialogue with the Union, we will be forced to step up our protests.”
The famers have four simple key demands:
• Regulation of land grabs by primarily Western companies (translation—biotech and Big Ag) to prevent small farmers from losing their livelihoods.
• The legalization of direct sale of produce and other foods from farms to the people. This cuts out the middle man and allows the higher quality produce of many farms to reach their customers directly. Poland currently has some of the most extreme policies of all of Europe in this regard, making it nearly impossible for small farmers to compete with big food companies who are notorious for selling fake and highly processed foods.
• Change inheritance laws so that families can rightly leave land under lease to their heirs.
• Ban the cultivation of genetically modified organisms.
One farmer stated: “We demand the introduction of legislation that will protect Polish land from exploitation by foreign capital! Agricultural land cannot be sold to commercial companies. It’s part of Polish territory. Once sold it will be lost.”
AN INTENSE ESCALATION OF EVENTS
The farmers̕ protests represent a dramatic increase in activist fervor that has been boiling to the surface for over a year, with marked unrest in the northern provinces.
These provinces are especially upset about not being able to sell their produce, which is mostly organic though uncertified. It is usually of higher quality than the food grown on modern industrial farms. Poland is one of the last places in Europe where peasant farmers still use traditional agricultural methods, with very low mechanization, and without the use of chemicals, so the soil is healthier, and so are the plants grown there. The majority of small farms are no larger than five hectares.
Industrial-bent foreign corporations are keen to expand their operations in Poland, and many small farmers see the increasingly ridiculous regulations as an attempt to force families off their land.
Furthermore, one of Poland’s biggest industrial producers, Smithfield (the world’s biggest pork producer, which bought Poland’s Animex SA in 1999) is influencing the largely right-wing government. They own a string of sixteen hog farms where conditions have been called “horrendous,” so you know they are not interested in protecting small farmers’ land rights or producing high-quality, non-GMO, organic food.
The triad of government and corporate interests in Poland along with EU pressure is causing the protests to reach a more fevered pitch.
Another farmer said, “These protests are touching the raw nerve of what’s wrong with the inhuman, neo-liberal and profit-obsessed practices of today, practices which ignore the real needs of farmers and consumers alike.”
Polish farmers have joined millions of others in protesting against Monsanto, Cargill, and other biotech and Big Ag interests, which have little concern for the quality of our food supply. Farmers in over fifty countries have marched against Monsanto, so the thousands marching in Poland are not alone. Almost all states in the U.S. have marched against Monsanto and Big Ag, and Vermont recently staged a protest at the U.S.-Canadian border which involved more than seventy-nine Vermont towns.
Hillary Martin, a farmer from Burlington, Vermont, states the internationally shared aims against these bullies clearly:
“We are here at the border to demonstrate the global solidarity of farmers in the face of corporate globalization. The corporate takeover of agriculture has impoverished farmers, starved communities, and force-fed us hazardous genetically-engineered crops, only to line the pockets of a handful of multinational corporations like Monsanto at the expense of farmers who are struggling for land and livelihood around the world!”
You can read more about land grabs by multinationals at the Pesticide Action Network, as well as other sites. The actions of these companies keep the world hungry and sick, not well-fed. As the Global Policy Forum explains, unfair distribution of land, and unfair access to ownership explain much of the poverty and hunger in the world—not, as biotech would have us believe, the inability to grow enough food. It̕s all about distribution. It is the one-percenters, owning most of the multinational companies, not rural farmers, who commandeer the land. Even when small farmers do own land, they still suffer from inequality due to government regulations that favor these enormous companies.
The struggle for land reform, which would shift the balance of power in favor of marginalized landless farmers, has been going on for many decades. However the food and financial crises contribute to worsening the trend towards land concentration, in which governments, agro-industrial corporations and private investors buy up fertile land in poor countries, largely to spread GMOs depriving small farmers of their ability to grow their own food.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2015