Poland: meet Carolien Spaans- new Agricultural Counsellor

Since a few weeks, the agriculture team of the Netherlands Embassy in Warsaw has a new Agricultural Counsellor: meet Carolien Spaans. Carolien represents the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality of the Netherlands in Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Carolien Spaans
Carolien Spaans

Can you tell us something about yourself?

I was born in De Bilt in the Netherlands. It is close to the city Utrecht where I went to high school and when I moved out of my parents’ house, Utrecht became my home town. I studied Political Science, International Relations, at the University of Amsterdam and after I graduated I first did some travelling before I started working. After following a 3 month course at the Institute for international relations Clingendael and some side jobs, I started working for the Ministry of Agriculture in 2006. Although originally I don’t have a background in agriculture, this sector is very much appealing to me. I have learned and am still learning, about the agricultural dossiers on the job and especially in the last three years, when I was Agricultural Counsellor for the Embassy of the Netherlands in Ukraine.

What attracts you in the agricultural sector?

First of all, farmers are providing for our food, every day throughout the year. It is something we cannot take for granted and I think many people would appreciate food more if they would see how their potatoes or grains are growing in the fields, how the weather is of influence and also how much technology and innovation is behind it.

For example vegetable seed companies are among the most innovative in the world, they are breeding new varieties with more resilience to diseases or with a longer shelf life to avoid food waste and with precision farming less input is necessary to gain the same or even more yields.

I enjoy travelling around and visiting and speaking to farmers and companies in the agri-food sector. It provides the opportunity to hear about the specific circumstances as well as opportunities and challenges they face. The Dutch agricultural sector has many strenghts, in technologies, innovation or sector organization (such as the golden triangle – the close cooperation between science, public and private sector), but you cannot apply the same model in all circumstances. Thanks to the visits, it is easier to make the connection and see where the Netherlands can contribute and exchange knowledge.

What experience can you bring from your previous posting and why did you chose Poland?

For three years, from summer 2016 till summer 2019, I was the Agricultural Counsellor in Ukraine. A very interesting country with a huge potential in agriculture due to both size (42,5 mln ha arable land) and the famous black soils. There are many positive developments in Ukraine such as the growing export of agrifood products to the EU following the Association Agreement. Both Poland and Ukraine are looking towards adding more value to the agricultural products and the Dutch experience can be of support. There are also challenges in Ukraine regarding labor market and the discussion about the conditions for opening of the agricultural land market. Topics which play a role in Poland as well. Ukraine and Poland have partly a shared history and although there are many differences I think I will also see some similarities with regard to challenges and policy and agri-food sector discussions in both countries.

Within the EU, the Netherlands and Poland are very important trading partners for each other and it keeps growing. One of the examples is the floricultural sector. Because of the growth of the economy in Poland, there is more demand for flowers and plants and therefore opportunities for the Dutch sector. On September 5-7th there will be the Flower Expo / Green is Life exhibition in Warsaw with participation of 49 Dutch companies. I’m very much looking forward to support further trade between Poland and the Netherlands also in other sectors. In addition, moving back to an EU country like Poland brings different policy issues, of which the negotiations for the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) from 2020 is the most important.

Coming from different cultural and historical backgrounds and different structural features of the agricultural sector, the Netherlands and Poland have their own views on how this new CAP should look like. For me it will be interesting not only to hear about the different views but also to see where we can find a common ground.

Finally, very practically why I chose for Poland as my new destination; I had Ukrainian language lessons in the last three years and while travelling around in Ukraine some people asked me after hearing my accent whether I was from Poland. I figured out that my only new destination would be to have a posting in Poland and improve on my language skills. I can understand some Polish words but I already got confused these last weeks since I have been here. For example, the Polish word ‘owoce’ is very similar to the Ukrainian word for ‘vegetables’, but it actually means ‘fruits’. I’m curious to see how my accent in Polish will be judged…

Carolien Spaans

What is your agenda in Poland for the coming time?

Agriculture is in the regions, not in the capital. So after I settle in, I’m planning to travel in the coming months, for example, in the area of Poznań and Gdańsk to get an introduction in the regions there; visit agricultural fairs and companies. Since the agricultural team is accredited not only for Poland but also for Czechia and Slovakia I will also make introduction visits there.

There are also many conferences and meetings already planned, such as the Circular Agricultural Day on October 10th at the Dutch Embassy with the focus on soil quality and food waste. Especially the topic of soil quality is very important. Changing climate conditions, the risk of water deficit, combined with high sandiness of the soils results in lower soil productivity and makes the Polish agricultural sector vulnerable in the near future. Dutch knowledge and technical solutions can contribute to mitigation measures, also seen from the perspective of circular agricultural systems. For example, Dutch organic fertilizers can be used as valuable input for strengthening organic matter and soil quality. This fits also perfectly to the vision of the Dutch Minister of Agriculture when it comes to sustainable agriculture. During my stay in Poland, I want to dive into these topics and continue with the work which my predecessor Martijn Homan has done so extensively in the last five years.

Het landbouwteam Warschau
Beeld: ©K.Weyher

And of course I want to get to know the agri-food network, the Polish Ministry of Agriculture, the Polish and Dutch business active in the agri-food sector and my colleagues from other countries who are working here in Poland. So it will be an interesting and busy time! Luckily I have two very experienced colleagues in the agricultural office at the Embassy; Agnieszka Murawska and Katarzyna Kowalczewska who are the heart and memory of our team. So I’m sure everything will continue anyway and they will have me up to speed soon.

Finally, I’m looking forward to get to know my new hometown, Warsaw, discover the cultural life, find a tennis court and enjoy the many restaurants from different parts of the world. I got myself a Dutch style bicycle to have a wider range to explore the city and had already my first friends from the Netherlands visiting me. We visited, for example, the Dutch Garden in Łazienki Park, the multi media fountain, the food halls, and the Warsaw Uprising Museum. I think it is great to discover a new culture, learn about the history and meet the people from the country which will be my home for the coming four years.

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