Rise of the deceived village: Ukrainian grain bankrupts farmers in the EU


Strikes, columns of tractors and blocked roads near border crossings – Polish farmers launched a large-scale protest due to the massive supply of Ukrainian grain to the republic. The uncontrolled influx of inexpensive agricultural products is putting Eastern European farmers on the brink of ruin. Ukrainian grain, which was supposed to transit the territory of the European Union, actually settles in the markets and displaces more expensive local products. Izvestia investigated what the protests would lead to.

Demarch of tractors

The protests of Polish farmers are becoming more visible. On Friday, February 17, strikes are scheduled in the Lubelskie Voivodeship. On Thursday, February 16, farmers once again blocked the customs checkpoint Yagodin-Dorogusk on the border with Ukraine. On Tuesday, February 14, farmers took to the streets in the West Pomeranian, Lower Silesian, Opole and Świętokrzyski voivodeships. Despite the distance separating them (some of the territories are on the border with Ukraine, some are on the western borders), farmers have common requirements. First of all, to stop the uncontrolled influx of grain.

Outraged farmers have been on strike since the beginning of the year. Roads are blocked by tractors and cars. They spend days and nights at checkpoints. In Grebenn, on the border with Ukraine, for example, at least three hundred farmers and a hundred agricultural machines gathered. “We are already planning further pickets, we will split into smaller groups and will protest around the clock, replacing each other. We give the government two weeks to take concrete measures and put things in order,” warns the co-organizer of the protest in the city of Staszow, Grzegorz Skurski.

Photo: AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski

Farmers have been trying to get through to the government for a long time. At the same time, associations of agricultural producers are well organized in the republic. There is a powerful trade union AgroUnia, the Deceived Village association, the National Union of Agrarians, the Union of Rural Youth and other organizations. They coordinate their actions with the police. The protesters, for example, pledged to let cars with humanitarian aid and fuel cross the border.

“We understand and support the need to help Ukraine, but Poland and other countries bordering it must not be harmed, and the agriculture of these countries must not be destroyed,” speaks press secretary of the independent trade union of individual farmers “Solidarity” Adrian Wawrzyniak.

According to the Polish Peasants’ Party, there are 2.5 million tons of locally produced grain in warehouses. They do not buy it, because cheap Ukrainian goods flooded the market. It was assumed that it would transit along the “routes of solidarity” to the countries of Africa and the Middle East. But in the end, he supplanted the local product.

Photo: RIA Novosti / Kirill Braga

The fact is that back in 2016, the EU and Ukraine suspended tariffs and duties on about half of agricultural products. And in May 2022, the import of the rest was also facilitated – to stimulate the Ukrainian economy. The decision was made in an unprecedentedly short time for the European bureaucracy.

There is nowhere to put your

European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Janusz Wojciechowski reported that in 2022 more than 10 million tons of grain were imported from Ukraine to the EU, which is two and a half times more than the supply of the year before last. At the same time, 2.1 million tons were delivered to Poland, which is 54 times more than a year earlier. Imports of rapeseed increased eightfold, and seeds and oils tripled.

In the republic itself, there is an overproduction of these crops. And local processors do not want to buy Polish products – Ukrainian products are cheaper. In addition, farmers emphasize that incoming grain is almost never checked for compliance with phytosanitary standards. Several dozen cars enter Poland every day, and only three trucks a week are inspected. In contrast, local producers are always strictly inspected.

At the end of December, agrarians sent a petition to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, in which they urged “in the name of food security” to submit an urgent request to the European Parliament or the European Commission to introduce a 50% duty on grains, rapeseed, and corn imported from Ukraine. But to no avail.

Photo: AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski

When the protests first flared up, Poland’s Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Henryk Kowalczyk saw no problem at all. According to him, the choice was small: the European Union agreed to grain imports, the Polish government joined him.

By mid-February, however, the ministry realized the seriousness of the situation. Kowalczyk asked the government to provide financial support to farmers and sent a request to the European Commission to “print out” the EU agricultural reserve fund. Now farmers are promised some additional payments, the amount of which will depend on the remoteness of a particular region from ports, as this affects the price of grain.

But the unions were not satisfied. “Taught by experience, we do not have much hope, therefore, in order not to waste time, we inform about further protests,” said Wiesław Grin, Vice President of the Board of the Zamość Agricultural Society.

According to him, young farmers of 35-40 years old, who understand the danger of their situation, come out to protest. “We will not be able to cope with industrial Ukrainian agriculture. We have technological regimes imposed by the European Union, we have to produce according to high standards, and then in an instant we were faced with prices 30% lower than in Europe,” explains Green.

Photo: AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski

No government surcharges will solve the problem, farmers insist. We need preferential loans, reduced prices for fertilizers, expanding the possibilities of Polish ports, creating long-term compensation programs at the EU level for the markets of countries bordering Ukraine.

No hope for Brussels

Agrarians in Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Hungary also faced a similar problem. Romanian traders, like their Polish counterparts, bought out most of the “transit” Ukrainian grain, and local products are gathering dust in storage. Most of the Bulgarian sunflower also remains unprocessed in warehouses.

In Budapest, they responded to the problem more quickly than in Warsaw. The Hungarian government has already introduced stringent quality and safety checks for grain coming from Ukraine, Agriculture Minister Istvan Nagy said. He also stressed that Hungarian farmers can only rely on their government, because “Brussels does not help and does nothing to eliminate the competitive disadvantage.”

In addition to grain, Hungary has one more problem – Honey coming from Ukraine at underpriced prices is also pushing out Hungarian products from its traditional export markets. Therefore, the republic calls on Brussels to ensure that honey products are clearly labeled with an indication of the place of origin.

Photo: RIA Novosti / Murad Orudzhev

Complaints about the current situation were received by the European Commission six months ago, but nothing has changed. At the end of January, the delegation of Poland (also on behalf of the representatives of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia) at a meeting of the Council for Agriculture and Fisheries (a structure of the European Council) again raised a sore point: help Ukraine so as not to harm others.

The light regime for Ukrainian goods should be valid until June 5, 2023, but already in the winter a lobbying campaign for its extension began. For Kyiv, the preservation of this regime is critically important. Last year, the agro-industrial complex accounted for more than half of the country’s exports. In total, deliveries brought in $23 billion. Most of all, they were exported to Poland ($6.6 billion) and Romania ($3.8 billion). Outside the European Union, Turkey became the largest sales market ($2.9 billion).

Ukraine supplies the volumes received in two years – the 2021 harvest, which was in warehouses before the conclusion of the grain deal, and the 2022 harvest, Arkady Zlochevsky, chairman of the board of directors of the Russian Grain Union, draws attention. The problem of Polish farmers is already old, but there was no such dumping before, emphasizes the interlocutor of Izvestia.

— It is impossible to compete with such a cheap product when the cost of own production is high. In Romania, the problem is not so acute – production is cheaper there, but still, their sales markets are also crowded out by Ukrainian grain, he clarifies.

Photo: Getty Images/Anadolu Agency/Metin Aktas

If the duties on Ukrainian supplies are not returned, the losses must be compensated, the farmers of Eastern European countries insist. One of the options is to attract the crisis reserve of the common agricultural policy of the EU. However, its use requires the consent of all the Ministers of Agriculture of the European Union. There is a second option – national assistance: the government of each country will extinguish dissatisfaction with the means available to them.

Concessions are possible, but later

It should be understood that the problem of the influx of cheap (and often very low-quality, according to the protesters) grain from Ukraine to Poland and some other countries of Central Europe – for all its acuteness for some farmers from these countries – is still not big in the EU, indicates Stanislav Kuvaldin, Researcher at the Center for European Studies, IMEMO RAS.

He draws attention to the fact that the frontier voivodships are experiencing difficulties, where one way or another grain settles, which does not quite legally enter the Polish territory. The problems also affected the lands in the west of Poland, where there are large grain farms. That is, within the country and its agrarian complex, this turns out to be a relatively narrow regional problem.

Nevertheless, it is unlikely that the Polish authorities, as well as the EU as a whole, can completely ignore the problem, since they are not interested in an extra source of tension around the Ukrainian issue. If we talk about the authorities in Poland – in reducing support for the government before the upcoming parliamentary elections this year (which will not be very easy for the ruling party), the specialist draws attention.

The Polish authorities have already announced the allocation of PLN 600 million for additional payments for the purchase of grain to farmers from border provinces. They announced their intention to achieve a revision of the conditions for the access of Ukrainian grain to the EU.

Photo: RIA Novosti / Pavel Lisitsyn

— But, since this product is imported into Poland under the export regime established at the level of the European Union, one should not expect its drastic changes. However, a smooth revision, taking into account the interests of Central European farmers in the middle of the year, is probably possible, Kuvaldin admits.

In general, the situation, in his opinion, reflects the costs associated with opening the market for Ukrainian agriculture, as well as with the economic inequality of countries within the EU. In an effort to bolster Ukraine’s economy, Brussels has opened up markets for a large grain producer that now apparently lacks the resources to strictly control the quality of its products. At the same time, in the relatively poor countries of the eastern flank of the EU, there may be niches for such grain.


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