‘Delegating our food supply to other countries is madness’ – Farmers’ Association

Association highlights Malta’s vulnerability to ‘logistical turmoil’, soaring food prices

 

Malta’s small size means it can’t be entirely self-sufficient when it comes to its food supply, but it’s crucial that the island safeguard its agricultural sector so that it can act as a buffer against the shocks of soaring food prices across the world, the President of Għaqda Bdiewa Attivi (GħBA, or the Farmers’ Association) told The Shift.

“We have been reiterating this for a very long time: food security and sovereignty were never on the political agenda, and are topics that are now starting to be discussed because of the logistical disruptions brought around by COVID,” GħBA President Malcolm Borg said.

“We are very vulnerable to logistical turmoil and this makes us a weaker nation. Why do we have to pay so much for our food – the most basic of commodities – for issues related to increases in container prices, or a lack of drivers, or risks related to worker strikes abroad?” Borg added.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, food prices across the world reached a 10-year peak in October, increasing by 3.2% since the last measurement was taken in September of this same year. The most recent government statistics from 2016 show Malta’s average output of locally grown fresh vegetables stood at around 40,848 tonnes, while that of fresh fruit stood at 2,624 tonnes, not even close to enough to feed a population of around 525,000 people.

While staple crops such as tomatoes and potatoes are relatively established and well-distributed, dwindling land supply has negatively impacted the production of these two crops as well. Livestock and livestock-derived products were also negatively impacted by low-quality arable land for grazing and rearing of animals.

The same set of statistics, published in a 2018 report on Malta’s National Agriculture Policy, also outline that there was a 13.7% drop in the population of farmers in Malta, dwindling from 1,994 in 2011 to 1,649 by 2015.

On Monday, The Shift published an article in which the Chamber of Commerce outlined the various issues leading to the spike in food prices across the world, highlighting the same reasons cited by Borg along with other issues such as higher operational costs overall as well dwindling economic activity leading to lower demand.

Quoting French President Emmanuel Macron, Borg described delegating Malta’s food supplies to other countries by relying on imports as “madness”, pointing out that in the last three years, Malta has lost 83 football pitches’ worth of agricultural land every year.

One of three main solutions offered by GħBA is to make sure agricultural land is exclusively used for agricultural purposes.

“We must also invest in the processing of local produce as most consumers buy processed products, while our market sells mostly fresh, and we must educate consumers and restaurateurs so people can eat more produce that our land can produce rather than eating what British and American recipe shows lure them towards,” Borg said.

The Shift has reported extensively on the loss of agricultural land which is stealthily and gradually encroached upon through either completely illegal development or illegal development that was retroactively sanctioned. Just two weeks ago, this newsroom reported that one of Prime Minister Robert Abela’s former business partners slowly converted an area that was mainly used as chicken farms into a gas cylinder storage point.

In September, an investigation into illegal development in and around the Rabat area exposed how various plots of agricultural or natural land were being developed without a permit, including several sites in the picturesque Għeriexem area.

Commenting on the results of that investigation, the president of GħBA had told The Shift that there is “an endless amount of cases in which this is happening”, pointing in particular towards a constitutional court judgement which favoured landowners’ rights over farmland leased to farmers and that has led to a spate of eviction cases.

One point of action taken by the government which pleased the GħBA was Agriculture Minister Anton Refalo’s recently promised investment in a system of quality control that will certify local produce according to international standards.

“We need our supply chain to function well and to make farmers’ produce more attractive to large-chain supermarkets, hence the emphasis on certification since such supermarkets only purchase produce that is certified using international certification schemes,” Borg said.

Featured photo credit: Ian Foks

                           
                               
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Gee Mike
Gee Mike
16 days ago

Alas but government policy is to make us dependent on foreign control and market prices.

We have sold one of our most important assets, hospitals to be held at ransom, admitting that we are incapable of running our own hospitals, but we run them in some foreign company’s name to pay more just €20 Million more this year and get the same or less. Better management should reduce the cost not increase it.

And worse still our electricity and therefore our water supply which depends on electricity. We have sold everything, we depend on shady companies, and European supply, which in turn is facing issues with gas supplies itself.

Joseph Muscat was boasting he is an economist on some self defending video, I suspect he does not even know how to spell the word let alone know what it means.

Cikku Poplu
Cikku Poplu
15 days ago

It seems that we also need to delegate our common sense :))

James
James
14 days ago

Malta is not only dependent on imports for food, but also nearly completely dependent on imports for its energy supply. We import gas and oil to fuel the power station and vehicles and have hardly developed renewable energy sources, despite all the politicians’ hot air about Malta’s commitment to reduce global warming.

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