By Sodiq Lawal
The government of Poland said it has temporarily prohibited grains and other food imports from Ukraine, as it seeks to address the rising anger of Polish farmers, who say they are losing huge amounts of money to a glut of Ukrainian grain on the market. The leader of Poland’s governing party, Jarosław Kaczyński, said that the Polish countryside was facing a “moment of crisis,” and that while Poland supported Ukraine, it was forced to act to protect its farmers.
“Today, the government has decided on a regulation that prohibits the importation of grain, but also dozens of other types of food, to Poland,” Kaczyński told a party convention in eastern Poland. The government announced that the ban on imports would last until June 30. The regulation also includes a prohibition on imports of sugar, eggs, meat, milk and other dairy products and fruits and vegetables. Ukraine’s Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food said that it “regrets the decision of its Polish counterparts” because Polish farmers are facing a difficult situation, but we emphasise that Ukrainian farmers are facing the most difficult situation”, it said.
The ministry proposed that the two countries come to a new agreement in the coming days that would satisfy both sides. Farmers in neighbouring countries have also complained about Ukrainian grain flooding their countries and creating a glut that has caused prices to fall, and causing them to take steep losses. “The increasing imports of agricultural products from Ukraine cause serious disturbances in the markets of our countries, great damage to producers and social unrest”, the Polish agriculture minister, Robert Telus, told his counterparts from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary. All are members of the European Union and he said the bloc should take urgent action on the matter. “We cannot accept a situation where the entire burden of dealing with increased imports rests mainly with farmers from our countries”, Telus said. The situation is the result of Russia’s war against Ukraine. After Russia blocked traditional export sea passages, the European Union lifted duties on Ukrainian grain to facilitate its transport to Africa and the Middle East.
Grain has since flowed into Poland, but much of its has not travelled further on to the Middle East and Northern Africa, as it was meant to under the EU plan. Poland’s government has sought to blame the EU for the situation. But some unions and opposition politicians have accused government-linked companies of causing the problem by buying up cheap, low-quality Ukrainian grain, and then selling it to bread and pasta plants as high-quality Polish produce. The leader of the protesting farmers and head of the AgroUnia group, Michał Kołodziejczak, estimated farmers’ losses at up to 10 billion zlotys ($2.3 billion).
The rising anger of the farmers comes in advance of an election later this year and is a headache for the governing conservative Prawo i Sprawiedliwość party as it seeks a third term. Polls show that it is the most popular party in the country, but could fall short of a majority in the next parliament. It faces a particular challenge from a far-right party, confederation, which combines libertarian and nationalist views and which contains some members seen as sympathetic to Russia. The party has grown to be the third-most-popular party in some polls. Kaczyński also announced other measures meant to help farmers, including maintaining subsidies on fertilizer.