Metta Spencer

Appreciating and Enhancing the Polish Oasis: The Best of European Agriculture

From Small Farmer's Journal, Winter 1998, Vol.22, No.1.

by John Bacher and Metta Spencer

Saint Catharine's and Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Poland's most important challenge as it enters the 21st century is to appreciate, maintain, and enhance its unique and ecologically sustainable agriculture. It is a pastoral and wildflower-speckled oasis in the biologically sterile desert of Europe's farmlands. This paper is intended to show that, even in practical terms. Polish agriculture is not behind the rest of Europe, but actually ahead. Polish politicians and economists should count their blessings and seize the day. In neigh-boring countries a large and rapidly growing market exists for organic food--which is exactly what Polish farmers are producing albeit without knowing it. Many Western Europeans gladly pay higher prices for such food. It should be a simple matter to identify the consumers. raise the consciousness of the farmers, give their produce the prestigious label it deserves, take it to market, and pocket the proceeds.

Poland's neighbors in the European Union (EU) and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) have farming systems that pollute on a grand scale. In contrast, Polish farming still recycles energy and waste within the confines of small farms instead of spilling them outward as toxic contamination.

A recent British publication by the environmental scientists Gordon Conway and Jules Pretty, "Unwelcome Harvest: Agriculture and Pollution", describes a recently lost world of sustainable farming. It recalls that when "industrial technology began to have an impact in the 18th and 19th century, agriculture continued to rely on natural ecological processes. Crop residues were incorporated into the soil or fed to livestock, and the manure returned to the land in amounts that could be absorbed and utilized. The traditional farm was a closed. stable, and sustainable ecological system, generating few external inputs. Since World War II, however, ecological sustainable farming systems have largely vanished from the industrialized world, both East and West." [1]

While. as Conway and Pretty note, agriculture has always had a disruptive environmental impact, "serious pollution, going beyond the immediate impacts on natural habitat, is a tragic invention of the late 20th century. This has come about since a once ecologically harmonious system has disintegrated. Today, farms in the industrialized countries have become larger and fewer in number, highly mechanized and reliant on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. They are now more specialized, so that crop and livestock enterprises are separated geographically. Crop residues and livestock excreta, which were once recycled, have become wastes whose disposal presents a continuing problem for the farmer. Straw is burnt since this is the cheapest and quickest method of disposal. Livestock are mostly reared indoors on grain and silage on farms whose arable land is insufficient to take up the waste."[2]

Few Western environmentalists are aware, however, of the remarkable extent to which Poland has escaped the ecologically destructive trends of other industrialized states. Such a lack of appreciation is the biggest threat to Poland's unique farming system. If the Polish agricultural miracle is recognized for what it is, Poland may become the organic farming breadbasket of Europe, skipping a stage of ecocidal horrors. Rural Poland is not only an oasis in Europe's toxified agricultural landscape, but a green haven within the nation itself. During the Cold War, the West portrayed the East as a place lull of belching smokestacks. While such images are accurate for many regions, they do not correspond to the reality of Poland's countryside. Here the dominant images were of shrines and horses, not the contamination of heavy industry.

Rural Poland is a fresh air zone, a lung of Europe, as surprising statistics show. In recent years life expectancies in rural Poland have surpassed those of urban areas. World Bank analysts regard this as a "highly unusual demographic trend," associated "with the fact that environmental pollution is concentrated in urban areas." [3]

Outside of the Polish oasis, on Seth sides of the old cold war boundary, an industrialized form of agriculture has been imposed on the landscape. Apart from a few green converts to organic farming, the only departures from monoculture are to be found in hilly mountainous regions. In Eastern Europe, such hilly farms escaped collectivization by being too costly to manage, as even the most zealous believers in socialized agriculture admitted. In Western Europe, it was recognized that conventional industrialized farming in such ecologically fragile zones would destroy scenery and accelerate soil erosion.

Poland is unique in Europe: a nation where low input, ecologically sustainable farming is still the norm on flat, fertile farm lands close to urban centers. [4] Poland still has large areas of pasture and wildflowers. These scenic areas, often integrated into cycles of crop rotation, provide fodder for horses, which are still the main source of draft power in the countryside. In contrast, both the EU and the former Soviet bloc have given over most pastures to intensive cropping, heavily using petroleum and chemical inputs.

The Soviet collective farms were plagued by low productivity but, from an environmental standpoint, their agricultural impact resembled that of farms in Western Europe more than Poland's predominantly private farms. The agricultural practices of both the EU and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) involve industrialized methods that are not ecologically sustainable.

Unfortunately, most politicians or economists in Poland fail to see the economic opportunity that is there is. Instead, they worry that within a few years, when Poland becomes a member of the European Union. its agricultural prices will have to be competitive with those of the other member states. To meet this challenge, they believe it necessary for the small private Polish farms to consolidate into huge tracts, abandon their horses for tractors, and switch from old-fashioned farming to "modern" methods employing chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Not so. In terms of productivity, smaller scale organic farming is actually competitive with other, so-called modern technologies. Its productivity comes from its use of nature as a substitute for various synthetic inputs. In the Far East, the mini-farms that average 2.5 acres, have the world's highest recorded yields. Even the Kayapo Indians of Brazil have been found to be highly efficient agriculturalists, experiencing through a more effective collaboration with nature, yields three times the norm for Brazilian farmers on land of comparable quality. Recent studies of present agriculture in Brazil, Chile. Colombia, Ecuador, and Guatemala have shown small farms to be three to fourteen times more productive than large farms. If Eastern Europe wishes to emulate the success of the "tigers" of Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. it should examine how the East was able to achieve such high yields on such small farms. [5]


Before we explain how it is that Polish agriculture is ahead, we must explain the mistakes of other countries. Let us start with Western farming, where the American model of tractorized agriculture replaced draft animals with machines. This change initially was brought about by agricultural subsidies. After World War II, the same mechanized system was exported to Europe in exactly the same way--by the use of subsidies. Frequently a government subsidy cheque would be used as a down payment for tractors. To pay for these big machines, larger acreages were required. The enlargement of farms accelerated the depopulation of the countryside in both Western Europe and North America.[6]

Government subsidies have also enabled farmers to pay for other higher-priced and pollution-prone inputs. such as hybrid seeds and chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which agribusiness corporations have developed to ensure high yields. These "miracle varieties" are genetically more uniform and vulnerable to pests than seeds developed through traditional selection methods.[7]

In the West, the state subsidized the development of industrialized agriculture. Ironically, however. two pacifist religious sects in North America, the Old Order Mennonites and Amish, have been able to prosper without accepting any direct government subsidies. Their subsidy cheques are never cashed but sent back to the relevant government agency. The Old Orders use draft animals instead of automobiles and tractors. Their lower cost and low input farming techniques compete successfully with higher cost, fossil fuel-based producers. While their farms are of smaller acreage, Old Order farmers tend to grow higher value crops per acre of land. The economic advantages of these techniques would be even greater if the full environmental cost of conventional farming were applied in the marketplace through such means as carbon taxes. [8]

The Soviet bloc's shift from green to polluting agriculture also came from state subsidies, which, however, were less productive than Western subsidies. Unlike the EU, the Soviet Union did not have to worry about vast food surpluses or impose compulsory acreage reductions. While productivity differs greatly between the two systems, the ecological devastation is the same.


In other respects, of course, there were dramatic differences between the two blocs. A major difference is that. in the West, political freedom enabled a dissenting, ecologically oriented farming movement to flourish. While both the European Free Trade Association states and the EU have developed special policies to protect ecologically fragile hilly regions and other sensitive zones, the ecological movement in the West is not limited to such regions. nor to traditional "backwoods" farmers. Instead, its driving force has been an environmentally well educated, middle class constituency who comprise about the same percentage of the population as those who vote for Green Parties in Europe.

These stubborn, dedicated ecologists are part of Western Europe's civil society. Like dissidents of Eastern Europe, particularly Poland, they worked out a simultaneous critique of militarism, often based on the writings of Gandhi, various Jewish or Christian beliefs on nonviolence, and on the Buddhist teachings of the Dalai Lama.

Ecologists in advanced industrial democracies have developed, more profoundly than the youth revolt of the 1960s. an actual counterculture. Unlike the more sensational, better-publicized antics of the early hippies, this community has fostered alternatives to the mainstream food production methods of such giant chemical corporations as Shell. These corporations have had enormous influence on the agricultural policies of the EU, even to the extent of banning seed varieties not on a list approved by a European Commission.

In industrialized capitalist rations, the organic farming movement has developed an entire parallel economy. Surprisingly, its biggest impact is in Japan. Here successful education about the effect of conventional agriculture has created a situation where 16 percent of the population regularly purchase organically grown food at the higher premium price. This is more than double the inroads achieved in North America and Western Europe.[9]

The ecological agriculture movement has its own specialized seed sources, farm input suppliers, research scientists and journals, extension agents, farm press, input suppliers, and retail markets. In many parts of Europe and Great Britain, those in the organic movement who look at the total ecological impact of agriculture have revived draft farming with animals. This provides the basis for a stricter ecological code in the future than has been developed through current standards of organic certification. These standards do not measure the impact, for instance, of the fossil fuel used in tractors, but focus exclusively on the avoidance of synthetic sprays and pesticide and the use of soil-building techniques such as composting and rotation. Often these horse-powered, organic farmers use North American Amish and Polish equipment of a kind no longer manufactured in Western Europe. [10]

Poland's private farms could easily overwhelm in acreage all of Western Europe's organic farming sector. In Western Europe there are only 165,395 acres under organic cultivation, while Poland has over a hundred million acres under at least a comparable standard. Indeed Poland's private farms could be said to have a higher standard of ecological sustainability than that required for organic certification, since most do not use fossil fuel energy sources. [11]

Organic farming has benefitted from educated consumers who are aware of the health and environmental effects of chemicalized agriculture. These consumers are willing to pay a higher "organic premium," frequently 15 percent more, for produce that meets the standards that are increasingly internationally established. There is a strong consumer market for such produce nearby in Germany, where there are 4,500 specialized stores that specialize in organic products. [12]

Poland's civil society does echo this green agriculture movement, which in the post-Communist era has developed one of Eastern Europe's first organic farming societies. Like its counterparts in Western Europe, this organization is simultaneously educating its farm members in organic methoda and the public as to its broader environmental benefits. [13]


Some of the super-industrializers of Stalin's day wanted to create mammoth state farms. The dictator refused, not because of his affection for the Russian peasant but from a desire to protect the state's budget. He supported relatively small-scale collective farms, and grass and cropping rotation systems. His successor Khrushchev, however, lacked a concern for keeping down the Soviet agricultural budget. He developed massive industrial style agro-towns, and fostered an aggressive campaign for the chemicalization of agriculture.

Upon assuming leadership, Brezhnev's team curbed some of Khrushchev's innovations, such as agro-towns and his war on private plots, which they called "hare-brained schemes." However, they doubled the damage by pouring even more subsidies into the agricultural sector. This included more generous pay for state collective farm workers. who were paid high wages allocated without regard to creating incentives for productivity.

As a result of these wages. when Gorbachev came to power he was unable to emulate the Chinese model of agrarian reform. The Chinese. like their later imitators Vietnam and the earlier version in Poland, decollectivized an agriculture that was still powered by draft animals and not heavily subsidized by the State. 14)

The pattern of ecologically disastrous subsidies in the former Soviet Union was also the norm in Eastern Europe. The most extreme example was East Germany, with its massive factory farms for pigs polluting large areas of the German countryside with wastes that could not he absorbed beneficially into the soil. Hungary's socialist farms attained productivity levels comparable to those of Western Europe. However, post-Communist shock therapy is now curbing subsidies there. with at least one beneficial effect--reducing the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. [15]


Poland, often called a bridge or half way point between East and West, thus became a green oasis in a desert. Its private farming systems perpetuated older, greener styles of private farming. while it became surounded by a wasteland.

To the west of Poland, the desert was caused by subsidies that allowed private farmers to pay for the high-priced inputs of agribusiness. The desert to the east was fostered by a state-decreed chemicalization fiat. Farms in the West were given the carrot of subsidies, but Eastem State farm managers were forced by the stick to farm in an ecocidal fashion. The blight was similar in both places.

Khrushchev's famous "corn mania" began with a visit to that Valhalla of industrialized farming, the midwestern American corn belt. He copied its monocultural and hybridized techniques. In both Eastern Western Europe, such monocultures destroyed what had been pasture-based wildlife hsbitat, suitable especially for ground nesting birds. Added to this was the problem of the chemical toxins used in this type of production. The result was an ecological double whammy.

In the USSR, livestock had previously been fed by Khrushchev's corn obsession and his "Virgin Land" drive (which created vast dust bowls) put pasture Iand into more intensive corn production, largelv for animal fodder. There were cutbacks in the production of high quality grass seed, hay mowing equipment. and the machinery needed for meadows. During Khrushchev's regime, hay production in the USSR plunged by million tons. While his Virgin Land policy created immediate disaster that resulted in his ouster in 1964, long term dangers caused by cropping marginal Iand instead of keeping them in permanent pasture continues to plague the CIS states. Currently the annual erosion rate is a staggering 2.5 million acres if arable land -- an amount of land twice the size of Delaware. Ravines and gullies alone have eaten up 16 million acres of arable land. While about half of the cropland converted from pasture remained in production after the initial crisis in Kazakhstan, making the republic an important food exporter, this was purchased at a heavy ecological cost, especially since much of the grain was used to feed animals, previously pastured with less impact on landscape. [16]

In the EU, no-till farming with its heavy use of herbicides has prevented an erosion crisis comparable to that experienced in the CIS. The same pattern of replacing cropland for pasture, however, has had devastating impacts on wildlife populations. The Nature Conservancy Council of Great Britain has documented, for instance, a 95 percent loss of permanent pasture, which has brought many native wildflowers to the brink of extinction. This has also contributed to the population decline of many other species of wildlife that are now endangered. [17]

In addition to replacing herb-rich hay meadows with gene-impoverished monocultural grain habitats in both the EU and the CIS, the chemicals poured on the land have brought ecological devastation. Surveys conducted in the period of "glasnost" revealed that food products were commonly contaminated with nitrates, with residues commonly 30 percent higher than accepted safety standards. Nitrate contamination has been a major factor in the death of the Aral Sea, whose dust storms now result in a toxic salt rain. [18]

Although the EU has not experienced an ecological disaster comparable to the draining of the Aral Sea, its problems with nitrates is comparable to that which has been experienced by the CIS. Drinking water standards for nitrates in Western countries have been established because of the connection between high levels and the danger of methemoglobinemia in infants and to gastric cancer. Carrot juice containing high levels of nitrate has been linked to the disease in France, causing high levels of blood contamination. In the West, nitrate problems have been exacerbated by herbicides commonly used in no-till farming. Herbicide use has also been devastating to wildflower, butterfly, and bird populations.


The historical reasons for the creation of the Polish green oasis are complex. Essentially it was a matter of fortunate timing, combined with a complex fusion of idealogies. So far, this theoretical synthesis of Poland's socialist, peasant, and Catholic movements has proved more powerful and enduring than either the propaganda of Western agribusiness or Soviet-style communism. It Is now being reinforced by newer concerns of the envi-ronmental movement.

Poland was fortunate in the timing of its decollectivization, which, even at the height of Stalinist terror, never involved the majority of the Polish peasantry. Since decollectivization took place before 1956 and 1958, Poland's socialist farming system escaped the ecologically disastrous corn mania and chemicalization fads. These agro-industrialization trends, with their concurrent heavy subsidies, have now made the transition to private farming in the CIS quite difficult, but they did not distort Polish agriculture.

Poland also henefitted from the disastrous results of Party leader Edward Gierek's efforts at re-collectivization between 1973 and 1978. This served to discredit the industrial model in several respects. The poor results in terms of productivity from the heavy investments made in the socialist agriculture sector were major factors in the economic crisis of the Gierek regime. This socialist farm sector ran a deficit comparable to U.S. $1 billion during this period and Poland became a net importer of food. [20] At this same time economic crisis, spurred by efforts at re-collectivization, provided a favorable opportunity for the rise of the pro-peasant Solidarity movement. The regime also encountered an unexpected consumer resistance to the chemicalization fads; consumers simply did not like the taste, for instance, of the chickens and eggs produced in the expensive, foreign-capital-consuming factory farms which the regime constructed. [21]

The timing of both Wiadyislaw Gomulka's rise to power, and the emergence of two Solidarities (the trade union and Rural Solidarity), also benefitted from Gomulka's (and later Stanislaw Kania's and Wojciech Jaruzelski's) distinctively Polish mix of ideology. In both instances, the regime successfully adopted the agricultural policies urged by liberal reformers, farm lobbies, and the Catholic Church.

Poland, before China's decollectivization of 1978, was unique in the Communist world in having positive state policies to encourage private farming. Private farming was not simply tolerated, as in Yugoslavia, Cuba, Romania, Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia, or, as in the more liberal Hungary under Kadar in the later 1960s, confined to a tiny percentage of the country's agricultural land base. Instead, Poland's predominantiy private agricultural sector (80 percent during most of the period from 1958 to 1990, with slight ups and downs) was encouraged through official policies, except during the last years of the Gierek regime.

State support for the private sector did not extend, however, to land consolidation, tractorization and the use of chemical inputs. In part this was because the Polish regime wanted to save foreign exchange by avoiding the purchase of imported farm inputs. Poland is not an oil producer, and any move to farming on the EU or Soviet model would have required (as it did disastrously with Gierak) massive imports from either the West or other parts of the Communist bloc. [22]

Poland's avoidance of Soviet and Western-sponsored chemicalization campaigns can be seen as a form of nationalism that fostered the country's room for maneuver between the blocs. Remarkably, this made it eligible for US aid even while it remained a member of the Warsaw Pact. The independence of the Polish peasant, with a reliance on home-provided sources of traction and fertilizers, consequently buffered the scope for sovereignty displayed by the Polish state.

The original winning formula of Polish agriculture was developed by Gomulka between 1956 and 1958. It should be seen as a partnership and effective compromise between the nationalist-minded Communist regime and the workers, the Catholic Church, the liberal intelligentsia, and the peasantry. All these groups benefitted from the Polish Communist regime's unique agricultural policies.

Liberals in the Communist party were defined by a lack of ideological zeal in agricultural questions. Their interest was restricted to production questions, and they supported private farming simply because, on this basis, it always proved superior to state and collective farms. Gomulka stressed this point, moreover, in his dramatic 1956 speech to the nation, noting that the regime's statistical evidence proved that private farming was more productive than the various forms of socialist agriculture. [23]

Gomulka also appealed to the powerful traditions of the Polish peasant political movement, which, although frequentiy splintered, was the strongest democratic party in Poland in the inter-war period. Indeed, save for the lack of democracy, the actual policies of the Gomulka regime, combining the nationalization of finance, mines, and major industries, with support for private farming. were similar to the inter-war platform of the peasant movement. This program, part of the peasant "Green International," was similar to other agrarian movements in Europe. It remained basically the same from the party's origins in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, right up until it was banned after the consolidation of Communist one-party rule in 1948. One of the consequences of both Gomulka's and Kania's liberalizations was to increase the effectiveness of the satellite peasant party as a lobbyist for Polish farmers. Rather than "actually existing socialism," which failed throughout the Soviet bloc, Poland after 1956 could be called a semi-democratic red-green regime. [24]

As in the inter-war period, the Catholic Church made a strong alliance with the peasantry. Between 1956 and 1958 Gomulka developed as effective alliance with the Catholic Church through a close co-operation with its leadership. The basic bed-rock of this alliance. which amounted to the harmony of state and civil society, was an agreement that the regime not underiake moves towards collectivization such as those that were imposed on every other nation in the Soviet bloc after 1958.

Even the Polish workers benefitted from Gomulka's agricultural policies. First, more than was the case in other Soviet bloc states, they had the advantage of better prices and availability of food. Also, the workers often benefitted directly from the regime's agricultural policies, since many were part-time farmers. Worker-farmers' continued ability to farm greatly improved their standard of living. Surprisingly, such worker-farmers, tilling plots less than five hectares in size and frequently scattered, are the most productive of all Polish farmers in their use of inputs. [25] In 1958, Gomulka refused to follow the rest of the Communist world (including China. Mongolia, and the USSR itself) in the war on private plots launched by Khrushchev. He also withdrew his previous support for adopting the Yugoslav system of workers' self-management. (Although seen at the time as a betrayal of the liberal promises that has brought him to power, it is clear in retrospect that Gumulka's decisions strengthened the regime economically in the long term. The Yugoslav worker self-management system failed economically, bringing that country to the brink of economic collapse by the time of its breakup in 1990. Jefirey Sacha has stated that the socialist state's breaking from the command model created chaotic situations where no one was in charge. This charge appears unrefuted in the case of industry. [26])

Gomulka's compromise of 1956 ran out of steam, in part because of a less generous policy toward private agriculture, exhibited by the late 1960s in poor prices. The regime also put pressure on peasants to sell their land to the state land bank when they retired, in exchange for a pension. These problems were reversed successfully in the first two years of the Gierek regime, which saw farm production rise significantly. However, such gradual growth, which had been the winning formula of the Polish state since 1956, was wasted when Gierek changed course. expecting sudden economic gains that never took place.

Gierek essentially broke with the national consensus favoring small scale private farmers, which had governed Poland successfully for 16 years. Instead he made a less fortunate blending of Western and Eastern ideologies. He hoped that massive capital imports from the West would foster both industrialization and socialist agriculture. His failure led to the success of the same elements that triumphed in 1956 -- the liberals, the Catholic Church, the workers and the peasantry--a victory that was obscured by the imposition of martial law.

The liberal intelligentsia, which was so important in formulating Solidarity's demands, played an important role in Poland's agricultural policy shift. One critical figure, the veteran moderate socialist Edward Lipinsid, had earlier provided the theoretical grounds for Gomulka's similar shift in 1956, combining private agriculture with socialist control of industry. Also, part of the liberal intelligentsia's "flying university" was dirrcted at a rural audience, providing them with infor-mation that the state did not want them to know. [27] In addition to those liberal intellectuals, the Catholic Church was vital to the development of Rural Solidarity. The regime registered Rural Solidarity only at the insistence of the Church, which had already nurtured the movement with priests' petitions demanding pension rights for rural land owners. The two Solidarities demanded and received the same agricultural program; the end of discrimination against the private sector in terms of access to government credit; land; and various forms of social insurance.

All these demands were actually implemented. The trend toward an aging Polish peasantry was reversed by the entry of younger men into farming. As happened in earlier periods of support to private farming, a significant increase in agricultural production took place. This brought such a surprising degree of satisfaction to the Rural Solidarity leadership that its jailed leader, Jan Kulaj, praised the regime's agricultural policies after being released from prison. [28]

Right up to the electoral triumph of Solidarity, the Communist regime's economic policy aimed at carrying out the basic formula for success that had guided it since 1956, save for such dogmatic zig zags such as the disastrous course of Gierek's final years in power. The regime's last reformist interventions aimed to stimulate private sector farming and small business activity. The problem of hyperinflation was not caused by the regime's increasingly positive approach to small business, but from the competing demands of the Solidarity and Communist trade union movements, and the breakdown of the command system over state~wned industry. [29]


The initial failure of the Solidarity economic advisers to understasstl the relationship between private farming and the dominant socialist industrial sector, and the ecologically favorable uniqueness of the Polish peasantry, paradoxically led to the petpetuation of that system in the post-Cornmunist age. The shock therapists' very contempt toward Polish agriculture caused the peasants to survive on tightened belts, if not indeed flourish.

The shock therapists wanted to get rid of what they viewed as the inefficient, small-scale, horse-powered Polish peasant. In picturing the Polish peasantry as backward, economic advisers such as Sachs had more in common with the unpopular hard-line Stalinists who had been driven out of power in 1956 than with the pro-peasant political coalition that had more recently determined government policy toward agriculture.

The insfluential Sachs took the anitude toward farming that "big is better," ignoring for instance, the success of very small acale organic farmers in advanced capitalist economies. Niche marketing, even to the substantial market for organic produce in neighboring Germany, never has appeared in the shock therapists' calculations. Sachs was also oblivious to all green trends in economics and regarded it as a sign of the success of his shock therapy that car owneership had risen in Poland. [30] Well aware of the need for proper business law to assist Poland's economic transition, he noted with favor the adaptation of 1936 Polish legislation for this purpose. He did not recognize the need to develop an effective, enforceable environmental law to prevent the country's becoming a pollution haven in Europe for industries seeking to flee from more expensive Western regulations. In addition to formal legal codes, an environmental protection regime involves developing capable environmental administrators and a positive framework assisting citizens seeking enforcement through the courts.

The failure to develop enforceable environmental regulations in the early shock therapy period posed problems for green entrepreneurs that Sacha did not take into account in his proposals for Poland's economy. Local businesses in a Warsaw suburb, for instance, made an informal agreement not to complain to authorities about the environmental impact of the new trades started by each other. Their collusion later posed great problems for an organic farmer whose produce became contaminated by the slurry and fumes from a nearby car repair shop. [31]

What the economic advisers to Solidarity failed to recognize was that neo-liberal policies would simply strengthen the very self-sufflcient peasant-like qualities that they disliked in Polish farmers. Little did they realize that it is easier to kill a peasantry through kindness than cruelty. Instead, by reducing their incomes, the Solidarity governments attempred to squreze Polish farmers out of existence.

Because of their failure to develop positive policies toward the Polish peasantry, the Solidarity governments experienced that same downfall as those Communists regimes that had previously tried to destroy the peasantry or make them content with life on a state farm. In response to a drop in income, Polish peasants did not sill their small holdings and move to town, to become part of the growing army of unemployed. Instead, they cut their expenses through such means as making their own bread and churning their own butter. The peasants simply retreated into the domestic economy, which does not even appear in the calculation of conventional economists. [32]

While economic liberalization ended legislative limits on farm size and any state-imposed difficulties in tractor acquisition, the high interest rates perpetuated these same effects. Interest rate of 50-80 percent, typical of Poland in the 1990s, were exactly the opposite of the subsidized lower interest policy that had allowed the tractor to displace the horse on American and Western European farms. [33]

Without intending to do so, the shock therapists encouraged the further greening of Polish agriculture by making synthetic chemical inputs more expensive, forcing greater reliance, for instance, on animal and green manures for fertilization. Fertilizer use on Polish farms in 1991/92 was only one third of its 1989/90 level. [34]

The attack on Polish peasants' incomes, moreover, doomed the shock therapists and the Solidarity governments for whom they worked. The embattled peasant small holders eventually voted heavily for the Communist-aligned Peasant Party. This destroyed Solidarity's hegemony over the Polish government and reduced Lech Walesa's power to that of a constitutional monarch.[35]

The electoral victory of the Polish Peasant Party, in alliance with the Communists, was an endorsement of the old peasant-socialist political program. This had been the dominant ideology in Poland since the nation had been restored in 1919. Indeed in important respects, it appears that the Polish peasantry has exercised hegemony over the rest of society. Through complex political maneuvers, through Rural Solidarity, and subsequently a careful self-interested strategic voting shift to the Communists, it created a nation whose economv is based on a peasantry that had been marginalized in every other industrialized democracy. Only dictatorship had previously prevented such a program from coming to power in Poland, before World War II.

The elections of 1993 revived the winning formula of the Polish Communists since 1956. This was support for small scale peasant agriculture, combined with continued socialist ownership of industry. While taking quick moves to boost farmer income, the Polish Peasant Party-Communist coalition government quickly put privatization on ice. Greater support for agriculture has resulted in increased consumption rather than in investments, which has helped perpetuate the Polish oasis by keeping such funds from being invested in such areas as tractors and pesticides. While Polish peasants are "reluctant socialists," they are part of a successful electorsl bed-rock for social democratic state intervention in the economy for the benefit of both agriculture and industry.[36]


Poland's economic strategy should have as its fundamental vision to keep and expand the nation's green oasis. Rather than being a self-satisfied green enclave in a sterile desert, Poles should view themselves as custodians of a lost but valuable heritage, which will bring Europe out of its ecocidal dark ages.

Poles can be missionaries for turning Europe's economy toward ecological sustainability. Poland has to face the least upheaval of any nation on the continent through such a course--far less than Cuba has experienced, for instance, after being forced into this role when its oil supply was cut off. Indeed Cuba's difficulties are a warning signal of what lies ahead when the dangers of global warming, ozone depletion, and industrial agriculture are finally taken seriously. The future cut-off from an oil economy may be as dramatic a shock as Cuba faced after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Communist bloc. Until the transition to organic farming can be complete in Europe, Poland is virtually the green bread-basket of Europe. [37]

The more Europeans know about the harm done by conventional agriculture, the more they will want to consume food grown in Poland through organic methods. For Poland, but no other European nation, spreading the bad news about chemical farming is compatible with its self-interest. The rest of Europe will undergo a disruption comparable to the transition fiom a wartime to a peace economy. Unemployment may become widespread, for instance, in industries that manufacture synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, which fortunately have not yet been established in Poland. Similarly, there may be unemployment in fossil-fuel-powered transportation and agricultural equipment industries, which are relatively insignificant in the Polish economy. The demise of these pollution-prime industries will be equivalent in Western Europe to the end of the coal belching and sulfurous rust that came to Eastern Europe with the end of Communism.

In the transition to a green economy Poland will be like the Celtic monks of Ireland, who possessed an ancient knowledge and wisdom that was being destroyed through barbarian invasion. While the vast majority of Europe's farmers have forgotten how to farm with horses, to compost wastes, to rotate pastures and cropland, and to mix straw with manure, these lost techniques of a green economy are still the mainstay of Polish agriculture.

Sweden is often thought of as the avant garde soiety of Europe. a laboratory in combining efficiency with social justice. Its parliament is seeking through an ambitious five year program to convert 10 percent of its farmland to organic production. Poland, on the other hand, has virtually all of its farmland under cultivation through organic methods. Likewise, Sweden, out of concern for the environment, is expanding its horse logging; this is already the norm for logging operations in Poland. Despite the dream of Sachs, horses not cars, arc still the normal way to get around in rural Poland. [38]

The ecological soundness of a horse powered cconomy was not understood until the global warming phenomenon was conceptualized. The central squares of Poland's historic cities, with their horse drawn canriages, send a message that is significant, not merely charming. The horse is sustainably powered by hay, the automobile by a devil's brew of praroleum that is the major souroc of green house gas emissions. [39]

As a first step, it is important that Poland seek organic certification of the majority of its private farmers. This would open up new markets and higher prices tor Polish farmers with little actual change in farming techniques. Such methods can be combined with continuing bans on synthetic chemicals. Farmers shouW also be educated in the latest ecological techniques and made aware of little-known achievements in Western organic agriculture, such as obtaining average gress returns of $225,000 an acre for gourmet quality salad greens. [40] Such education and training would result in relatively painless adjustment from traditional to knowledge-intensive, consciously organic agriculture. It can be combined, for instance, with new techniques for composting organic wastes from urban areas such as vermiculture. Replacing state farms authentic agricultural research institutes would also be part of this process. Poland would also have in the process to develop a green agricultural extension service.

Public education can be used in a number of ways to strengthen Polish agriculture. The Polish public would be unlikely to corsume imported food products if they understood that they contained toxic residues. Understanding green agriculture can also be a way of combatting other sourees of contaminants in Poland. The disposal of toxic waste, and air and water pollution, all pose dangers to the reliability of the nation's food supply. To some degree, democracy has already fostered this in Poland. The banning of imported waste and the shelving of expansion plans for nuclear power were among the first steps taken after the end of Communist dictatorship.

Public broadcasting is one way to spread the message of green agriculture. This can be done not only within Poland, but through putrierships with public broadcasting corporations in other parts of Europe, and with environmental groupe. That could make some surprising alliances. Prince Charles, who has made a broadcast documentary on the problems of modern architecture, could turn his msas media talents to depicting the problems of industrial agriculture which he illustrated in his book "Highgrove." The very bucolic landscape which Charles laments as passing in the EU, and which he has carefully restored at his estate, still flourish in Poland because of the need for extensive fodder areas for horses. [41]

Sometimes Poland's entry into the EU, scheduled for 1999, has been seen as a potential signal for the end of its distinctive agricultural system, because of Western competition. This ignores the role of subsidies in Western Europe in fostering its ecologically destructive farming systems, and Poland's relative avoidance of them its sustainable agriculture.

The danger posed by Poland's entry into the EU is not essentially that its farmers would compete against more efficient producers. Efficiency is increasingly often measured with full environmental cost accounting. Indeed, Poland has suffered from EU barriers to its lower-priced meat exports, facing for instance violent opposition from French farmers. Polish meats could be even more attractive in the European market if they were sold under an organic label, in accordance with international standards of certification. This would signify they are free from such inputs as the antibiotics which are frequently fed to anintals in such factory farms. [42]

Instead, the real threat to Polish farmers is posed by extending the current massive EU subsidies to them. These subsidies would create ill-conceived incentives that would destroy self-sufficient farmers in the same way as it has marginalized these in the rest of Europe. Polish peasants could alford to buy the land and tractors to become polluting farmers like those in Western Europe. The biggest barrier to integration now is the heavy cost of such a scheme for the EU's agncultural budget, already under scrutiny from hostile intemational trade discussion. [43]

Fortunately, the self-interest of Western European farmers and taxpayers has kept the EL s agricultural subsidies out of Poland. This, even more than Solidarity's misunderstanding of agriculture and the lack of resources by the current Polish government to pursue polluting agricultural "modernization." has been critical to maintaining the Polish oasis. [44] If Europe is to make serious progress, however, in addressing its environmental problems, the Polish oasis must eventually conquer the desert.


Unlike their counterparts in Poland, the farmers of other capitalist and formerly socialist countries face problems of unsustainability. They had been allured by the speed and ease with which the machines enabled farming work, especially ploughing, to be carried out. However, although mechanization did reduce the human and animal labor required to plough the field, it increased the costs to the family farm enterprise and to society as a whole. Farms had to increase in size to pay for the machines, and therefore employment was diverted from the fields to the factories that produced the machines, and to the expensive petroleum and chemical inputs that sustained them. Human labor was diverted from small-scale farms into a wide range of ecologically unsustainable lines of production: oil wells and refineries, fertilizer plants, tractor factories, and steel mills. Today, ordinary farmers in Western Europe use 60 percent more fossil fuels per unit of food than mechanized organic farmers, if in our accounting we include the manufacture and trunsportation of pesticides and fertilizers that depend on petrochemicals and coal-fired stations. Even greater efficiencies and sustainability have been achieved by organic growers who use draft animal power. [45]

Other European nations must in time emulate Poland's green agriculture, but this will require an economic adjustment that will make its "shock therapy" experience appear mild in comparison. Poland needs to build on its legacy by making its labor-intensive farms more knowledge-intensive. and by consciously working with nature and modern ecological science.

Poland has luckily retained the greener famning system that was the norm in Europe before more ecologically destructive practices were unleashed in the 1950s. It has been saved from both the nightmare of Khrushchev's chemicalization mania and the massive subsidy-induced ecological wreckage of Western Europe. By enhancing, publicizing, and effectively marketing its farm products. Poland can be a new "green dragon" economy, achieving prosperity in newer ways appropriate to the world's current environmental challenges.


[1] Gordon Conway and Jules Pretty, Unwelcome Harvest: Agriculture and Pollution (London: Earthscan Publications 1991), p.1.
[2] Conway and Pretty, p. 555.
[3] Roger Manjer, Failed Transitions (New York: New Press 1993). p. 24.
[4] For an appreciation of the difficulties of fine-tuning subsidies and the environment in Western Europe, see OECD report, Agricultural and Environmenial Policies (Paris: 1989), passim.
(S) Peter Goring, Helena Norberg-Hodge, John Page. From the Ground Up: Rethinking Industrial Agriculture (Berkeley: International Society for Ecology and Culture, 1993), pp. 60-61.
[6] Hans P. Binsivanger, World Bank Staff Working Papers Number 673, Agricultural Mechanization A Comparative Historical Perspective (Washington D.C.: The World Bank), passim.
[7] Vandana Shiva, The Violence of the Green Revolution (London: Zed Books, 1992), passim.
[8] Wendell Berry. The Gift of Good Land (North Point Press. San Francisco), pp.190-199, 216-249.
[9] For an account of the surprisingly strong organic farming movement in Japan. see Koyu Furazawa, "Cooperative Alternatives in Japan." in Philip Conford ed. A Future for the Land: Organic Practice from a Global Perspective (Hanland, Engiand: Green Books, 1992). pp. 139-150.
[10] Robert A. Mischka, Draft Horses Today (Whitewater, Wisconsin, 1992) pp. 49-84.
[11] Goring, Norberg-Hodge, Page, p. 79.
[12] Goring, Norberg-Hodge, Page, p. 80.
[13] Personal communication from University of toronto Peace Studies Professor Lesjek Gluchowski.
[14] For a description of the Brzehnev legacy see Alec Nove, Soviet Agriculture: The Brezhnev Legacy and Gorbachev's Cuts (Santa Monica, California: RAND/UCLA Center for the Study of Soviet Interantional Behavior), passim.
[15] Karoly Okalicsanyi, "Hungarian Agricultural Production Declines," RFE/RL Research Report November 1993, p. 46.
[16] Murray Feshback and Alfred Friendly, Ecocide in the USSR (New York: Harper Collins. 1991), pp. 57-58.
[17] HRH the Prince of Wales and Charles Clover, Highgrove: Portrait of An Estate (London: Chapman, 1993). p. 47.
[18] Feshhach and Friendly, pp.61-71.
[19] Conway and Pretty, passim.
[20] Edward Cook Prospects for Polish Agriculture in the 1980s in Eugene Wadekin, ed. Communist Agriculture: Farming in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe (London: Routledge, 1981), p.137.
[21] Personal communication from Barbara Wejnert, Professor of Sociology, Cornell University.
[22] For an account of Gierek's notion that Poland could take what was viewed as a 'Japanese' approach to industrialization and not worry about agricultural productivity, see Cook, passim.
[23] Andreze Korbonski, Politics of Socialist Agriculture in Poland 1943-1960 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1963), pp. 240-260.
[24] For an understanding of the ideology of the first Green International see David Mitrany. Mars Against the Peasant: A Study in Social Dogmatism (University of North Carolina Press, 1951, pp. 118-145).
[25] Carole Nagengast, Reluctant Socialists, Rural Entrepreneurs (Oxford: Westview Press. 1991). pp.60-100.
[26] Jeffrey Sachs, Poland's Jump to the Market Economy (Cambridge: MIT Press. 1993), passim.
[27] Peter Raina. Independent Social Movements in Poland (London: London School of Economics and Orbis Books. 1990), pp. 115-123.
[28] Nancy Cochrane, "The Private Sector in Eastern European Agriculture" in Problems of Communism 1988, p. 51.
[29] Jeffrey Sachs, passim: Voytek Zubek. "The Polish Communist Elite and the Petty Entrepreneurs." East European Quarterly Sept. 1991, p.344.
[30] Sachs, passim.
[31] Manser, p.95.
[32] Nagengast, p.195.
[33] Manser, p.49.
[34] Manser, p.74.
[35] Louisa Vintan. "Power Shift in Poland's Ruling Coalition" Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Research Report March 18, 1994, pp. 5-10.
[36] Ben Slay, "The Polish Economy and the Post-Communists" Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Research Report August, 26, 1994. pp. 66-76, Nagengast, passim.
[37] For an account of Cuba's decollectivization and economic greening after its oil cutoff, see Peter Rosset and Medea Benjamin ed. The Greening of the Revolution (San Francisco: Global Exchange, 1995), passim.
[38] Valerie Russel, Heavy Horses of the World (Whitewater, Wisconsin: Heart Prairie Press, 1992), pp. 66-68.
[39] Andres Slodkowski, Poland: A Proud Heritage (Toronto, Globetrotter
Books, 1994), p.50.
[40] Michael Ableman, ed. From the Good Earth (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1993), p.103.
[41] Charles and Clover, passim.
[42] Manser. p.69.
[43] Timothy Garton Ash, "East European Agriculture at the Crossroads" in Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Research Bulletin January 24, 1992.
[44] Garton Ash, passim.
[45] Charles and Clover. p. 138.