As Poland prepared to join the European Union, Jadwiga Lopata created an eco-tourism program that promoted the environmental, economic and health advantages of small family farms over large-scale factory agriculture.
Jadwiga Lopata lives near Cracow, Poland, on her small organic farm in the farming community where she was raised. A former computer programmer, she has worked on rural preservation since the mid-1980s. In 1993, she founded the European Center for Ecological Agriculture and Tourism-Poland (ECEAT-Poland). In 2000 she established the International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside (ICPPC) with Julian Rose, an organic farmer and ecologist in the United Kingdom. She is its co-director.
Of Poland's 2 million family farms, 68 percent are smaller than 20 acres (8 hectares). In Poland, the national park system preserves only 1 percent of the land. Therefore, the diverse landscape of the family farms provides much of the only open space for hundreds of diverse species. These farms do not use mono-crop, high-chemical farming methods. Many rely on reduced levels of pesticide, and the interest in organic techniques is growing.
Having successfully resisted Communist efforts to collectivize agriculture and create giant state farms, Poland's substantial family farm sector is now threatened by corporate agriculture. Since 1989, these small farmers have been forced to compete with Western European farmers who receive subsidies from the European Union. The subsidies encourage large-scale, highly mechanized, mono-crop and chemically intensive agriculture. As Poland prepares to join the EU, Polish family farmers realize that their livelihoods and traditional ways of life are threatened.
Lopata is working to protect family farms and to promote organic agriculture. The increasing demand for organic food, ecological housing and environmentally friendly fuels offers small farmers a way to remain competitive and viable.
Through ECEAT-Poland and ICPPC, Lopata provides training in organic agriculture, ecological tourism and the development of local markets. Her projects have created a system of eco-farms throughout Poland where visitors can vacation and learn about the environmental and health benefits of organically grown food. In 1993, ECEAT-Poland attracted 400 tourists from Western Europe to 14 Polish eco-farms. Only three years later, in 1996, about 3,000 tourists were accommodated on more than 60 farms. In her own village, Lopata succeeded in convincing the public and local authorities to support small-scale tourism instead of building a large resort.
Today there are 130 farms in the ECEAT-Poland network of organic and transitional-to-organic family farms in Poland. Participating farmers get an average of 20 percent of their income from ecotourism. In the last three years, about 13,000 ecotourists have visited these farms (about 30 percent from within Poland and 70 percent from abroad). The ECEAT approach has now been established successfully in other European countries and is coordinated internationally.
Lopata founded ICPPC with Rose in order to draw international attention to the threat that EU membership currently poses to Poland's countryside. In the past year, ICPPC conducted an intense national and international campaign, "Charter 21 - Countryside Manifesto for 21st Century Poland," that calls on the Polish government to take a firm stand in protecting the Polish countryside and its ecological, natural, and cultural diversity in negotiations over joining the EU. This campaign has gained the support of more than 462 Polish and international organizations representing more than 30 million people.
Lopata understands that time is of the essence on this campaign. In the past year, ICPPC has been conducting meetings around Poland and working on this issue in meetings with the Polish Parliament, the European Commission Directorate-General for Agriculture, and the European Parliament.
Although Poland's membership in the EU many not be final for several years, its agriculture-related negotiations will be finalized during the next nine months. Winning the battle to protect the Polish countryside not only will help Poland, but also will strongly influence agricultural policies in the whole of Europe.
"If financial and promotion aid for bio-farms, ecotourism and bio-fuel increases, Poland can become Europe's leading organic food and renewable energy producer and ecotourist attraction," said Lopata. "Poland should only join the EU when a way is found that will clearly support and build on the values of the Polish countryside."
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Watch in high resolution on YouTube.