Poland: sure of food security?

Poland serves often as an example of a success story in Europe with twenty-six years of uninterrupted economic growth. The economy grew by more than 5% in 2017 and the first half of 2018 only. Nowadays Poland has become the 6th economy of the EU, the 24th economy globally, and since 2009 it has been classified by the World Bank as a high income country. Given this bright picture, how does the food security situation look like in Poland?

Polish Map

Food security in Poland goes up

Food Security Index

Poland is one of the European countries in which food security has increased according to the GLOBAL FOOD SECURITY INDEX. The index, issued by THE ECONOMIST magazine, takes affordability, availability, quality as well as safety of food into account across 113 countries (both developed and developing). Poland increases its scores from year to year reaching 26th position in the world in 2018. Many other EU countries scored even higher than Poland, for example:1st goes to Singapore, 5th position holds the Netherlands, 10th position holds France, 11th goes to Germany.  

Polish agriculture performs well

Agriculture and food industry combined formed a key sector and is one of the driving factors of the Polish economy. It grew in production, productivity and value in the last twenty-six years. As a result of the economic transition that started in the 90’s, from a net agricultural importing country, Poland became an net exporting country (with an export worth over 25 bln EUR mainly due to modernization of the agri-food sector). Poland ranks 4th in the European Union in arable land and currently ranks already 1st in the production of apples, poultry, mushrooms, berries, frozen fruits and vegetables. Greenhouse production and milk production is rapidly increasing. Once Poland manages to control African Swine Fever in domestic pigs, also the pig sector has a potential to grow. The research results on production and consumption of basic agricultural raw materials indicate that Poland is a self-sufficient country with surpluses in food production (2).

Within the analyzed factors of GLOBAL FOOD SECURITY INDEX, the highest possible results in ranking Poland achieved because of stable access of farmers to finance, presence of food security systems and food standards (following the EU rules) and the low percentage of population living below global poverty thresholds. The highest increase was additionally noted in the area of public spending on the research and development in agriculture in comparison to other countries (1).

Polish food is affordable

The prices of food in Poland are one of the lowest in the EU, according to the price level index of Eurostat (was 65 in 2017 compared to the EU-28 being 100) (3). Based on research within the period 2010-2015, prices of food and non-alcoholic beverages decreased at a faster rate than total housing costs or the price of energy carriers. The percentage of food expenditures in total Polish household expenditures in 2010-2015 is around 24% (2).

Along with this, a problem of food waste is also becoming a topic awaiting solutions in Poland. The estimate of 2006 is unfortunately 9 million tonnes of food waste per year in Poland, which more can be read about here.

Climate change will impact Polish agriculture

Although further developments and modernization of agricultural sector in Poland will continue, the success story of Polish agriculture will only be able to remain if challenges of climate change will be taken seriously into consideration. Like for most countries, including Poland, climate change is a threat. Climate change will impact precipitation, temperatures and the amount of dry and wet periods in Poland, according to KLIMADA project (5). Annual average temperature will increase, there will be less days with temperatures under 0 degrees (from 2011-2020 to 2071-2090 a decline of 32 days, and 16 more days with temperatures above 25 degrees), the growing season will extend by 30 days, and while the precipitation may or may not increase, there will be extended dry periods. Changing climate conditions will impact crop yields. Forecasts show that (depending on the scenario), average crop yields in Poland will decrease with 5%-10% in Central Poland, between -5% and +5% in Northern Poland, and up to -15% in South West Poland, compared to the yields in the period 1961-1990. However, the crop growths in the mountainous areas of Poland might increase up to 30%. Predictions also foresee a specific reduction in yields of certain crops, such as potatoes and wheat (6).

Soil degradation is an issue in Poland

Graphic Population Living on Degraded Land
Source: (A) FAO 2017

Also the fact that 13% of the Polish population already lives on degraded land is a serious risk for agriculture, specifically if the degradation concerns soil erosion or water related problems (Poland already is classified as a “water stressed” country; total renewable water resources are only 1567 m3 per capita per year).

Of all, wind soil erosion is the most severe risk for Poland. An estimated 45.2% of total soils is susceptible, making Poland rank among the EU countries with the highest percentage of area at risk (8). In the long run, soil erosion lowers organic matter and nutrients in the soil nor can plants root well in eroded soil. This already renders the soil vulnerable, which combined with the forecasted indicators of climate change (i.e. longer dry periods (droughts) or higher temperatures) poses an even increased risk for agricultural productivity. An example of the impact of such conditions could be seen this summer, when droughts caused very high damages to the production of farmers, which is described here.

Droughts cause losses in yields and increase in food prices

In the past years, Poland has been confronted with consequences of droughts. The drought of 2018 caused losses in yields (basic cereals, cereals mix and field vegetables) that to date affected more than 332 000 Polish farms. Farmers will receive some compensation, but this is related to the volume of damage and subject to restrictions. So far, farmers were compensated for the amount of 1.2 billion PLN, and another 0.95 billion PLN worth of compensation is still subject to revision (9). Losses in crops translate to increase in food prices.

SOILUTIONS: to avoid food insecurity in the future due to climate change

In order to avoid food insecurity in Poland in the future in the era of changing climate, investing in soils seems to be a good idea. Increasing soil organic matter would help water retention throughout the year, and in the long term also result in an increase in nutrients in soils, thus better yields. Promoting sustainable agriculture that focusses on circularity and decreasing pressure of agriculture on environment could help both mitigate climate risks as well as increase resilience for changing climate.

Poland, as a water stressed country, deserves also attention for water management (renewable water resources are under 1567 m3 per capita per year). During the summer,  evapotranspiration exceeds precipitation on agricultural lands causing water deficits in soils (10). This phenomena is being amplified by climate change, and especially potato yields are predicted to be affected because of water deficits.

A renewed focus on irrigation measures might be the answer, the more irrigation systems have been steadily declining over the years in Poland  and currently is used on 0.7% of the arable land only (FAO estimates, confirmed by Polish scientists). Recently the Polish government notified some changes in the RDP regarding water investments in rural areas.

Another possibility would be to adapt crop species to increasing temperatures and dry conditions or a focus on precision farming, or applying new technologies while handling soil.

It is clear that Polish agriculture will face consequences of climate change and needs solutions and technologies to adapt to it- preferably sooner and in a sustainable way. Not forgetting that agriculture contributes to climate change, but precisely therefore it plays an important role in mitigating climate change. This mitigation in turn can positively impact sustainable food production and consequently help in maintaining Polish food security for the generations to come.

Marit van der Hoek and Katarzyna Kowalczewska
Agricultural Department Poland
Twitter: @AgriWarsaw

November 2018


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Eurostat 2018. Comparative Price Levels for Food, Beverages and Tabacco, accessed online: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Comparative_price_levels_for_food,_beverages_and_tobacco#Price_levels_for_food.2C_beverages_and_tobacco

Agroberichten Buitenland Polen 2018. Food waste in Poland, accessed online: https://www.agroberichtenbuitenland.nl/landeninformatie/polen/nieuws/2018/10/09/food-waste-in-poland

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P. Borrelli, C. Ballabio, P. Panagos, L. Montanarella. Wind erosion susceptibility of European soils. Geoderma 2014, Vol. 232-234, p. 471-478.

Business Insider Polska, Rolnicy złożyli łącznie 332 tys. Wniosków o pomoc suszową, 21 November 2018, accessed online: https://businessinsider.com.pl/wiadomosci/arimr-otrzymala-332-tys-wnioskow-o-pomoc-suszowa/0my9ssk

M. Szwed et al. Climate change and its effect in Poland. Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences 2010, vol. 10, p. 1725-1737, accessed online: https://www.nat-hazards-earth-syst-sci.net/10/1725/2010/nhess-10-1725-2010.pdf

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