This report presents the major findings of the project entitled ‘Sustainable Rural Development and Agricultural Restructuring in Poland’ (SURDAR) funded by the Department for International Development (Ref: 8097). The research was motivated by the observation that systemic transition was evidently much deeper in the urban areas of the country than in the countryside. In particular, it appeared to be almost by-passing the enormous private, small scale farming sector that was one of the notable paradoxes of the country’s socialist experience. The situation appeared to be unsustainable, at least insofar as the sector represented a large drain on the national budget; it was socially inequitable and it also threatened to derail Poland’s ambitions to enter the EU. In the event, the accession referendum was to approve membership, although the eventual entry terms that the country’s negotiators secured were hardly consistent with accelerating a rural development and agricultural restructuring effort that was still insufficient or insufficiently effective. Unfortunately, the findings from the research undertaken under this project identified few reasons to suggest that this has changed or is about to change in the near future.
After an introduction, the second section of the report considers the imprecision attached to the term rural and introduces the definition employed in Poland. It also provides an overview of the administrative delineation of the country’s space; notes the changes that were required in order for the country to comply with the acquis communautaire and presents some basic rural-urban development contrasts. This is followed in Section 3 by a review of the current agriculture sector within Poland and the challenges with which it is confronted. Section 4 then examines the evolution of agricultural and rural development policy, both at a purely domestic level and as applied by the EU, and contemplates its potential to secure change in the years to come.
If sustainable development is to occur in agriculture and the rural areas of Poland, it is clear that it must operate through and have significant implications for the labour market. This issue and the work that was been undertaken on it are introduced in Section 5 of the report. This identifies not only the stagnant nature of the agricultural work force, but also the unemployment handicap confronting the country’s rural areas. It also highlights the enormous gulf between the structure of Poland’s labour market and those of the EU-15 Member States whose ranks the country has now joined and the length of time it would take, at current rates of progress, for it to approach the European average. Later sections look at the views of local leaders, foreign direct investment, and several case studies conducted during the project.