WARSAW – Kussi Amma Sera would have been overwhelmed! Visiting a local fruit, meat and vegetable market in Warsaw, the capital city of Poland, I was amazed at the freshness of produce. And I could hear Kussi Amma Sera, lurking in the background if she were around, whispering: “Mahattayo, mewagey elavalu ha palathuru thiyanavanam lankawey, [...]

Business Times

Freshness of Europe


WARSAW – Kussi Amma Sera would have been overwhelmed! Visiting a local fruit, meat and vegetable market in Warsaw, the capital city of Poland, I was amazed at the freshness of produce.

And I could hear Kussi Amma Sera, lurking in the background if she were around, whispering: “Mahattayo, mewagey elavalu ha palathuru thiyanavanam lankawey, kochchara hondada.”

Straight from the farms, the tomatoes are firm and rounded, not mushy; the cabbage, lettuce and carrot all not only look fresh but feel fresh and do not need any sprinkling of water to make them look like they have just been brought to the market, like what a local grocer in a Sri Lankan market would do. The cold weather helps to retain the freshness.

The visit to a local market was part of study tour of the agriculture and food industry on Poland for a group of journalists from Asia including myself this week.
Returning to the city of Warsaw, 11 years after my first visit in June 2006, there are many positive developments and though locals tell you there are political issues, from what can be seen and the development that has happened, business is booming and agriculture is flourishing. Many family farms, notwithstanding an occasional shortage of labour and the sons not willing to follow the family line of farming, are flourishing. Lessons for Sri Lanka where agriculture is inefficient, while subsidies kill entrepreneurship.

The country’s food industry – fresh meat, meat processing, poultry and dairy products; fruits – apples and all kinds of berries and a variety of vegetables – is thriving and enjoying a place at the top of the European food market. For instance, Grójec, 40 km south of Warsaw, is considered the region which has the biggest apple orchard in Europe. The Polish people are proud about this and a visit to this enchanting town seeing many kilometres of lovely apple trees with the red and green fruits ready for picking, was part of the programme. It was also nice to watch a family – husband, wife and children – picking the fruit themselves, guided with some soulful music from a music player on a truck!

In some ways, there are similarities to Sri Lankan farmers of many generations ago. For example, Polish farmers would sing in the fields as they work, a practice which has eventually turned to the use of music players of different periods. In the case of Sri Lanka, it was ancient rituals and chanting that were practised.
The best part of the tour? Discovering a special egg priced at 5 Polish Zloty (US$1.36) which is equivalent to Rs. 208 each, in the local market. This is equivalent to the total cost of 12 eggs in Sri Lanka! There are also cheaper eggs at around 1-2 Polish Zloty. So what makes this egg tick? Apparently the hens are raised in a comfortable and pleasant environment with music in the background which may be the reason why people pay a price for this niche-market product. And it sells, we are told.

Poland’s land area is 312,679 sq. km while its population is 38.5 million. Comparatively, Sri Lanka has a population of 21 million and a land area of 65,610 sq. km. This means that Poland has a bigger land area per person than Sri Lanka and how well it maintains its land use is seen from the dozens of kilometres of corn fields, grain and fruit farms when driving through the country.

The growth in Poland, however, came only in 1990, a decade after the birth of the Solidarity trade union movement eventually resulting in its candidate Lech Walesa triumphing at democratic parliamentary elections. The economy has surged since then with the food industry becoming a flag-bearer of the growth that’s taking place.

Back to the local market, Kussi Amma Sera would have looked in awe, if she were around, when I spotted a giant pumpkin, the largest ever that I have seen. Fresh as ever and a treat to see.

The countryside is dotted with small towns and quaint villages living in perfect harmony with the environment. Life is organised, traffic moves slowly during peak hours but efficiently; pavements and streets are clean; highways and expressways take you to your destination in double quick time; roads in smaller towns are well marked, signals and street lights work. Everything is organised whether in the big town or the small village, something Sri Lankans would love happening in their country if politicians and society are on one page; developing the country sans corruption and greed.

Harvesters work in the fields, while giant windmills rotate gracefully, a reflection that Poland like many countries is moving towards renewable energy. Forests emerge on and off as you turn corners on long and winding roads – a view into Poland’s 30.5 per cent forest cover. What is most impressive, 11 years after my first trip, is the remarkable developments largely in agriculture and the food industry. Cooperative societies and family farms are showing success and getting rewarded, another hands-up for cooperatives which are normally perceived as archaic, corrupt and inefficient.

Unlike the inefficiencies in Sri Lanka’s agriculture, the Polish people have achieved success in agriculture with sizable farms, new machinery and reduced labour amidst limited state intervention. Foreign investment is coming in from companies in China and the Middle East, both key buyers of Polish processed food, among

Some business models are very interesting. A stud farm just outside Poznan (four hours’ drive from Warsaw) that breeds racing horses for carriage racing which the group of journalists visited, has a European champion but raising horses for races is a costly and unprofitable affair. So how does the company make ends meet? On the 2,000 hectares of land it owns, the company has the largest and most modern cattle farm in Poland with over 1,000 head of cows producing millions of litres of milk. With a modern new production facility opening next month, the company is laughing all the way to the bank since it needs just three cows to sustain the cost of maintaining one horse. Corn is grown on several hectares of land which is the main feed for the animals. On Wednesday, when we visited the farm, a giant harvester was at work. That evening we had an elegant dinner in a 19th century stately mansion with yarns of ghosts and eerie howling of wolves for company!

Across the 5-day trip what stood out was that the country’s development has been nicely planned in the post-Communist era, from rolling grassland in vast swathes of the countryside, farms stretching for kilometres and wide and expansive roads to organised cities. Either the politicians were perfect in making this happen or society was smart enough to ensure their role in development. It is apparent that the public service is also efficient; very little dirt and garbage are seen on the roads. Lessons for developing Sri Lanka! From horse breeding, ghosts to musical chickens, what an exotic country!

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