An in-depth analysis of the agricultural extension and advisory system in Poland has graciously and expertly been conducted by Dr. Jozef Kania, Associate Professor, Head of the Department of International Agriculture and Extension at the Agricultural University of Krakow. The full study can be accessed and downloaded below.
Agricultural extension in Poland has a long tradition. In 1883, the first paid speaker was employed. The speaker gave 100 to 150 lectures annually and visited on average 80 agricultural farms. In 1908, five agricultural instructors were employed in agricultural companies. In 1914, there were already 50 of them, and in 1918-1919 the number grew to 200. In 1911, an animal breeding specialist was employed. An instructor for the issues of rural women was hired as early as 1918. After Poland gained its independence in 1918, ‘social agronomy’ was the cradle of agricultural extension. It was defined as "social activity based either on private initiative or on associations and institutions or local government and the state” and it focused on the dissemination of agronomic knowledge and its application by the broadest strata of the population.
In the inter-war period from 1918 to 1939, the agricultural chambers that provided extension services played a special role among the agricultural organisations, including especially the cooperative ones. The first three agricultural chambers (Pomerania, Greater Poland, and Silesia) functioned in independent Poland back in 1918-1920. A decree from 1928 ensured the right to organise agricultural chambers in other provinces, and this was fully implemented in 1934.
After World War II, in 1947, agricultural chambers were liquidated by the government and the local extension services were incorporated in 1950 into ‘Peasant Self-help Unions’. By the end of 1967, these unions included more than 5000 agronomists, who worked at the district or ‘Gmina’ level, the smallest administrative unit in Poland.
The Regional Agricultural Research Centres (RRZD, Rejonowe Rolnicze Zakłady Doświadczalne) were established in 1970. Its purpose was to develop and introduce modern methods of agricultural production to practitioners within its region. For implementation of these goals specialised extension service was established within the Regional Agricultural Research Centres.
In 1975, the Regional Agricultural Research Centres were transformed into provincial Centres of Agricultural Progress (WOPR, Wojewódzkie Ośrodki Postępu Rolniczego). These were responsible for professional development and were substantially involved in providing agricultural services, as testified by the fact that in 1976 more than 17,000 persons forked for WOPR.
However, in 1990, the district level agricultural service was dismantled. Soon thereafter, 49 Agricultural Advisory Offices (ODR, Ośrodek Doradztwa Rolniczego) were established, one for each province. These were public organisational units that reported to the provincial governors and financed entirely from the state budget. The state agricultural farms were excluded from being served by these ODRs. The farms were a part of the provincial centres of agricultural progress. The first years of extension service reform in a new political and free market economic system are synonymous with broad support of many countries, especially of the USA, Denmark and Ireland.
It should be clearly emphasized that Poland was one of a few countries of the former Eastern Bloc with a relatively well developed extension system and structures in place to disseminate agricultural progress. Poland’s agriculture sector also was somewhat different from those of other Eastern Bloc countries because actually more than 75% of arable land was privately owned. In fact, there were more than 2 million private agricultural farms. Today, the average size of these private farms is 10.20 ha, and thus relatively small compared to other Eastern Bloc countries. Nonetheless, agriculture in Poland employs 16.1% of the work force but contributes only 3.8% to the GDP (2009) reflecting the still relatively low productivity of the agricultural sector.
Changes in the organisational form of the state agricultural extension service were accompanied by reorientation in programming. Since 1991, extension programs devoted to the issues of agricultural economics, agricultural marketing and information have become the priority. In the following years, the implementation of programs devoted to social welfare advisory services, the development of entrepreneurship in agriculture, leading communities, and local community development, multifunctional development of the rural areas and agriculture, alternative sources of income and environmental methods of management in agriculture were put into practice.
With regard to economic advisory services, rapid changes in the orientation of the programs were achieved as a result of two types of pressure:
- firstly, when the sales of their products were hindered, farmers began to pay more attention to increasing income by means of cost reduction and undertaking alternative projects,
- secondly, financial institutions began to require from the farmers applying for credit that they present reliable business plans of the designed projects.
Since the ODRs were established, farmers' demands on economic advisory services have rapidly grown. As a result, as early as in 1991, ODRs started a large-scale training of advisors in this field. The Polish and American Program for Agricultural Extension was of great service in this matter. The project was established as a joint educational project of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Extension Service and the Polish Ministry of Agriculture and Food Economy’s Agricultural Advisory Service. Between 1990-1995, more than 100 American Extension professionals representing 31 land grand universities travelled to Poland to work in this project. Over the period of the project, 70. Ext. professionals representing 26 states served one or more six month assignments as advisors at provincial level of Centers of Agricultural Advisory (ODR, Ośrodek Doradztwa Rolniczego) in Poland,,.
Within the framework of this program, trainings and workshops were organised both in the USA and in the EU to train advisors in writing business plans by applying modern techniques. As a consequence, in years 1992-1998, ODRs were virtually the only institutions that could help farmers on a large scale with the preparation of business plans. Even banks didn’t have this capability at that time.
Nowadays farmers can make use of many other sources of knowledge. Information and advice can also be obtained from chambers of agriculture, which were re-established in 1996, private consultants, firms trading in agricultural inputs, or purchasing farm products, branch unions, agencies, associations and foundations dealing with specific subjects, banks, agricultural high schools, research institutes and universities. Last but not least the internet gives access to practically all information that is being made available anywhere in the world.
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