Dublin, 30 May 2022
My fellow speakers, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to join you today for the World Potato Congress in Dublin. In coming to Ireland, I am following in the footsteps of another Polish man, Pawel Strzelecki.
Strzelecki was a scientist and humanitarian who came to Ireland in 1847, at the height of the great potato famine.
He came to provide practical solutions. On his arrival, he wrote that: “You cannot reason in an abstract way, when you see men dying in the streets”.
Today, we come to Ireland in more positive conditions, but we are here to find solutions for issues of similar gravity.
Given your history, Ireland is an ideal place for our discussion.
I know the deep connection you have with the potato as a source of staple food. It is a connection shared with my homeland, and shared with me personally.
I grew up on a 10-hectare farm in Poland; and 2 hectares were always set aside for potatoes.
We were a small farming family, and these potatoes provided our daily meals.
The crisis in Ukraine
Today, in Ukraine, it is families like this who are caught in the crossfire of war.
The United Nations, with the support of the European Union, has sent over 860 tonnes of seed potatoes to more than 17,000 families in Ukraine.
This support is vital. Because the small farmers and families of Ukraine are not just the victims of this war; they are also the heroes, and we must defend them in every way possible.
Since the beginning of the invasion, I have been in close contact with the Ukrainian Ministers for Agriculture and their services.
They have told me how Ukrainian “farmers are fighting at day, and working to provide food at night”.
These are the farmers who feed so much of the world. Now they are working in their fields, and dying in their fields.
They have told me how Russia is taking Ukrainian soil and using it “as a weapon”; a weapon of hunger against its own people and against the most vulnerable communities in the world.
In the face of this weapon, the European Union, and the international community, will not stand aside.
We will continue to provide the farmers of Ukraine with the practical support and supplies they need.
We will continue to assist with their exports, to get the grain out of Ukraine.
By doing this, we can make room for further production, we can ensure vital income for the Ukrainian economy, and we can maintain Ukraine’s role as the breadbasket of the world.
Russia intends to use food as a weapon of war. Together, with Ukraine, we shall use food for the defence of peace.
This basic connection – between food, peace, and democracy – is a founding principle of the European Union.
As we move forward, this principle must continue to guide us.
The current crisis has made it absolutely clear: food security must be a fundamental priority of the European Green Deal.
For this, the Green Deal must be a good deal for farmers. Because a good deal for farmers is a good deal for society.
The foundations of our society are rooted in food security. And the foundations of food security rest on the work of our farmers and the health of our environment – our climate, natural resources, and biodiversity.
To support the foundations of our society, we must therefore support both the environmental requirements and economic realities of food production.
In the European Commission, this is the approach we intend to take.
In our reform the Common Agricultural Policy, we are calling on Member States to provide strong incentives for environmental and animal welfare actions, and to reinforce the economic and social structures of their farming communities.
Stronger support for organic farming, young farmers, and small family farms are just some areas of focus.
In our research and innovation programme Horizon Europe, we are investing €9 billion for projects related to the environment, the bioeconomy, agriculture and food.
We are calling on scientists and project leaders to transform digital technologies and ecological methods into practical, productive, and profitable solutions for farmers.
In the Farm to Fork Strategy, we are calling on all actors in the food chain to play their part. We want to deliver fairer, shorter, and more effective supply chains, to reduce food waste and help consumers make food choices that support the sustainable actions of farmers.
Our farmers are already doing good work; with the full support of society, they can do much more.
To achieve sustainable food systems, this is the work required. And we are required to work together.
Global food systems
The same is true for our food security.
It has been repeated often that food security is not an issue in the European Union.
But this only gives a limited picture.
Firstly, our food security is something that has to be worked for every day; it is something we can never take for granted.
Secondly, to simply say that “food security is not an issue in the European Union” is not good enough.
Earlier this month, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres told us that the number of severely food insecure people has doubled in two years – from 135 million before the pandemic, to 276 million today.
As we speak, more than half a million are experiencing famine conditions – an increase of over 500 per cent since 2016.
Ladies and gentlemen, this food insecurity is our insecurity. Their hunger is our hunger. It is the same hunger that affected our people, in Ireland, in Poland, and the rest of Europe, across our history.
It is a history that cannot be repeated.
In response to the immediate crisis, we are supporting Ukrainian food exports, stepping up our own production, and providing humanitarian aid where it is most needed.
We are also working with international partners to ensure that stocks can reach vulnerable populations efficiently and affordably.
On a longer-term basis, we are working with our partners, and through international coalitions, to achieve grow resilient and sustainable productivity in food systems around the world.
I recently visited Zambia, and saw first-hand the potential of its agricultural sector and young population. I discussed with President Hichilema and his government how our partnership can support their growth.
With this co-operation, we can replace the threat of hunger with the prospect of a stable and sustainable food system.
Solidarity for food security
Ladies and gentlemen, in the face of conflict and crisis, we must call on a spirit of co-operation and solidarity.
Let me recall the story of Pawel Strzelecki.
After arriving in Ireland, he devised a system of feeding children directly through schools.
By distributing daily food rations in this way, it is estimated that Pawel Strzelecki’s system saved the lives of approximately 200,000 children.
In Ireland, you say that “We live in each other’s shadows”.
I take this to mean that, in the challenges presented by life, we share both our sorrows, and our shelter.
The story of Pawel Strzelecki is just one small example of what can be achieved through solidarity.
If we take this spirit, we can achieve much – for the people of Ukraine, for our most vulnerable populations, and for the future of our food and farming systems.
On this note, let me thank you for your time and attention.
I would like to wish you a productive and enjoyable Congress.