Since Poland entered EU on 1st of May 2004 its land and real estates could be legally bought by non-Polish citizens. However, given the law extension of twelve years, foreigners would still need permits to purchase Polish land. Warsaw argued that the rule was necessary because the value of agricultural land in Poland is much cheaper than in the rest of the EU, which would favor foreign and industrial land buyers over Polish small farmers. In addition, Poland still has a large numbers of small scale farmsteads that represent the non-commercialized, low input and biodiversity rich pre-EU agriculture.
Despite the moratorium in force until May 2, 2016, foreign companies circumvented the law using "substitute buyers" from Poland. They were Polish citizens who won tenders for land owned by the state and informally handed over land to foreign companies. Foreigners could also buy land by buying minority blocks of shares in Polish companies that purchased the land.
The Farmers' Protest (Protest Rolników, in Polish) began in the West Pomeranian Voivodeship, in the "regained lands" acquired by Poland in 1945 from Germany as a result of World War II. These lands were previously dominated by large Prussian land estates, transformed into state-owned farms during the communist rule in Poland (until 1989). Their location near the western border of Poland made it particularly attractive for foreign land investors; mainly from Germany, Ukraine and the Netherlands.
The Farmers' Protest was initiated in Szczecin - i.e. in the capital of the West Pomeranian Voivodeship - in the winter of 2012. It was organized by the Independent Self-Governing Trade Union of Individual Farmers "Solidarity" (Niezależny Samorządny Związek Zawodowy Rolników Indywidualnych „Solidarność"), an organization that was the successor of the union of farmers operating in the 1980s resistance to governments. Protest Committee of Farmers of the West Pomeranian Voivodeship (KPRWZ) and a protest profile on Facebook was launched. From December 5, 2012 to February 19, 2013 (i.e. for 77 days), small-holders peasant-like farmers protested at a branch of the Agricultural Property Agency (state-owned entities in 2003-2017). They also rode through the city streets many times, blocking traffic. On January 18, 2013, it was changed the land regulations as a result of the consensus between the government and the protesters. The change was made to make the mode of land distribution in restricted tenders more purposeful and to tighten the land sale system. Farmers did not feel like a feast and protest actions were occasionally organized in 2013 and 2014 (e.g. a 3-hour drive of nearly 50 tractors through the streets of Szczecin on September 11, 2013). Soon, it sparked solidarity protests in other localities across the country, and many other agricultural organizations joined (eg OPZZ, Trade Unions Forum). Protests spread acroos the country. Farmers were also supported by associations of West Pomeranian organic producers and a small group of Nyéleni Polska, the Polish branch of the La Via Campesina movement, directly involved in the activities of food sovereignty.
It was in the beginning of 2015 when the farmers' discontent, growing up over the previous three years, culminated. At that time, the deadline for the completion of the moratorium (2nd May, 2016) was approaching. Moreover, thefarmers' protests took on a strictly political dimension, as parliamentary elections were to be held in the fall of 2015. The protesters opposed the coalition government of the liberal Platforma Obywatelska (Civic Platform) and the Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe (Polish People's Party, traditionally representing farmers in the parliament), which ruled Poland since 2008. Thus, protests moved to the capital.
On 12th of February 2015 hundreds of Polish farmers blocked major highways surrounding the Polish capital and drove their tractors to the center of Warsaw. Another protest occurred on 19th of February 2015 when 6,000 Polish farmers protested in Warsaw and in parallel in 50 other locations in Poland. It is the single largest farmers protest to have ever taken place in Poland. The protest in Warsaw culminated with blocking the Agricultural Property Agency and occupying a centric spot they named the 'Green City', an encampment that symbolize farmers’ fight to save their livelihood and way of life. The protestors also established the 'Academy of Self Sufficiency and Health' that organized a series of workshops, slide shows and films, demonstrating the practical techniques of self-sufficiency.
In 2015, the farmers protested against the EU’s agricultural policy driven by an increased export-led production, monoculture farming, application of synthetic fertilizer and pesticides, and expensive farm machinery. The protestors were also against harsh regulations for any farmhouse foods to be legally sold to the Polish public, and the arrival of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) crops. In addition, Polish farmers were unhappy with the lack of financial assistance to solve the problems cause by the Russian import ban erected on 7th of August 2014 as an answer to Western economic sanctions penalizing Russia for actions carrying out in Ukraine. To sum up, the farmers' demands were not only about securing the regions particularly affected by land grabbing (as in the West Pomeranian Voivodeship), which was emphasized in 2012. They also wanted comprehensive changes in agriculture throughout Poland.
The intentions of rights-wings government, elected in fall 2015, to ensure that farmland stays in the Polish hands resulted in the new stricter agricultural law. According to this law, only those who own not more than 300 hectares of farmland and have been residents of the municipality in which they bought the land for at least five years will be able to buy the land. The land could also be sold to anyone who does not fit these criteria but only with permission granted by the Agricultural Property Agency. Given that, according to the EU law, Poland cannot discriminate against the citizens of the other member states, the national government proposed that the state stops selling its land (most of which is classed as agricultural) for the next five years. The legal changes was recognized by farmers as a step forward to prevent selling off prime farmland to foreign speculators. However, the opposition party (The Polish People's Party- PSL) demonstrated against the bill, and accused the government of suppressing the liberal democracy in Poland. In turn, the European Commission launched a probe on the state of the rule of law in the country, as the new regulation could also breach EU law. Given that many other Polish farmers' demands have not yet been resolved, International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside (ICPPC) -one of the farmers’ protest leading organizations- has been calling upon the Polish government since 2016 to implement the postulates of the Belweder Declaration: “The Charter of Real Farming and Real Food” which outlines the key factors essential to maintaining both food security and food sovereignty in the country.